Gloucester Poised to Implement Syringe Exchange Program

By Zachary Siegel 07/12/16

The Massachusetts city continues to embrace life-saving harm reduction measures with the announcement of a proposed syringe exchange program. 

Gloucester Poised to Implement Syringe Exchange Program

When I interviewed Leonard Campanello, Gloucester’s chief of police, he told me that his troops are “willing to recognize that addiction in itself is not a crime, it’s a disease and that [police] can be part of the solution.” Since then, his department has linked hundreds of drug users with treatment instead of handcuffs, and has inspired departments across the country to do the same. 

But this small fishing town in Massachusetts continues to capture the nation’s attention with its humane—as opposed to punitive—policies that aim to help people with drug problems. This time, Gloucester is seeking to establish a needle exchange program

A joint press release by Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, Police Chief Leonard Campanello and Department of Public Works Director Michael Hale said that with the city's support, the North Shore Health Project will apply for a waiver from the state to start a pilot program for a syringe exchange program (SEP). If the plan is approved, a facility is scheduled to open in mid-September.

This is a significant development because law enforcement—a traditionally conservative entity—has been slow to embrace harm reduction measures like syringe exchange programs. SEPs are a well-studied, pragmatic solution that reduce harms associated with injection drug use. 

The one-time use of sterile syringes, a measure promoted by SEPs, remains the most effective way to limit HIV and hepatitis-C transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syringe access has helped reduce HIV incidence among people who inject drugs in the U.S. by 80% in the past decade. 

SEPs are also a net gain for the non-drug using community because they reduce hazardous waste. “Discarded needles are a concern in every city in the Commonwealth, but department heads in Gloucester are committed to not only cleaning up the streets and gathering spots but to also preventing used needles from becoming potentially dangerous litter in the first place,” city officials wrote in the release. 

The needle-exchange is merely one arm of a larger harm reduction program that will also include testing, drug education, Narcan distribution, and referral to treatment. 

“The rise of heroin and other opioids across the nation has a ripple effect, and discarded needles are another way this crisis affects a community,” Chief Campanello said.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.