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A new Maine law decriminalizes syringes. Advocates say it's a major step to combat overdose deaths

Safe Injection Sites
Mary Altaffer
/
AP
In this Tuesday, July 3, 2018, photo, a used syringe removed from the bed of a sidewalk tree near VOCAL-NY headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York is seen in a disposal container. VOCAL-NY runs a needle exchange and harm reduction services, as well as overdose prevention and other services for people who use drugs.

A new state law goes into effect Monday that decriminalizes the possession of hypodermic needles and other supplies. Advocates say it's a major step forward in combating overdose deaths.

Before the law went into effect, anyone who possessed more than 10 syringes at a time faced up to 364 days in jail and as much as a $2,000 penalty. Even people who used state-certified syringe exchange or 'service' programs were at risk of criminal penalty.

But now, under the new law, all drug paraphernalia is decriminalized.

Advocates say criminalizing needles pushes people away from treatment options and closer to dangerous situations. The Health Equity Alliance says Maine's new law is critical for public health because it will prevent overdose deaths as well as the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV.

The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Public Safety, and Attorney General's Office supported the law during a hearing last spring.