LEWISTON, Maine — The founder of a mobile needle exchange program in Lewiston said Tuesday he will stop providing clean needles to drug users after Lewiston police told him that to do so violates state law.
Jesse Harvey said Tuesday that he is an ordained minister in the interfaith Church of Safe Injection, with 12 branches across four states and weekly meetings in some communities, including Bangor.
Harvey has operated sterile needle exchange sites several times a month for two months in downtown Lewiston. He also provides free naloxone (Narcan), other supplies, food, and resource information.
Maine law prohibits possession of 11 or more hypodermic apparatuses unless someone is enrolled in a sterile needle exchange — or secondary exchange — program with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Lewiston Police Lt. David St. Pierre said Tuesday.
St. Pierre said police told Harvey that violation of the law would be a Class D misdemeanor.
Harvey is licensed as a secondary exchange provider in Portland and Bangor, but is not licensed in Lewiston, he said.
Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services operates needle exchange programs in Portland, Bangor, Augusta, Ellsworth and Machias.
“Nobody deserves to die from a treatable condition,” Harvey said in a message to the Bangor Daily News. “Our friends, family and neighbors deserve evidence-based and and compassionate care, not misinformation-based deadly care.”
In two months, the program has exchanged 601 syringes for 71 people, according to Harvey, and provided 63 doses of Narcan, “at least two of which have been used to successfully reverse cases of opiate poisoning and save those two people’s lives.”
Harvey said the group would welcome the assistance of legal professionals, faith community leaders and public health professionals interested in addressing the crisis in Maine.
“The provision of the critical public health service must be freed from the grips of a state bureaucracy that is not willing to provide it,” he wrote in a message to the Bangor Daily News.
St. Pierre said Harvey has been cooperative with police and informed them that he will not distribute clean needles, but that he will file an application with the CDC to become a secondary provider in Lewiston.
This story will be updated.