Police crack down on mobile needle exchange unit in Lewiston

    Police are cracking down on a mobile needle exchange unit in Lewiston. (WGME)

    LEWISTON (WGME) -- Police are cracking down on a mobile needle exchange unit in Lewiston.

    The program calls itself the "Church of Safe Injection," passing out sterile needles from the back of a car.

    It's not your typical-looking church.

    "We've provided 71 people with access to sterile supplies and Naloxone and we've exchanged 601 syringes," Jesse Harvey said.

    The Church of Safe Injection wants to save souls, as well as lives.

    Jesse Harvey has packed his Honda with everything from sterile needles, overdose antidote Naloxone, to potato chips and voter registration cards.

    He's trying to reduce the spread of diseases caused by shared needles, and get users into recovery.

    "The fact there are only three certified exchange programs in the whole state of Maine I think says something,” Harvey said. “There's something seriously wrong with we as a state are providing a critical public health service. It's not being done right."

    But Harvey's been told that his offer of salvation needs to step back.

    The Lewiston Police Department has asked him to stop giving out syringes, because once you have 11 of them, you are technically breaking the law.

    "Due to our deep respect for the community and for the Lewiston Police Department, we will be distributing everything except the syringes," Harvey said.

    Harvey and others believe the efforts are desperately needed.

    Glenn Simpson is a drug and alcohol counselor in Portland.

    He was skeptical at first, but now supports what this "church" is doing.

    "Having a mobile unit that's handing out safe supplies to people who use drugs is a compassionate approach to change," Simpson said.

    Simpson believes it's a good start to a long-term solution.

    "People still see substance use disorder as a moral issue,” Simpson said. “It's not about bad people trying to be good. This is about sick people trying to be well."

    He says a change of mind may be the key to solving this public health crisis.

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