BG Thurmont Needles - SH

BG Thurmont Needles — SH

Jessica Ellis, the Frederick County Health Department’s Syringe Service Program coordinator, presents information to Thurmont officials and residents.

The county’s first community meeting on a proposed syringe service program — that would allow drug users to dispose of used needles in exchange for a clean one — left the residents of Thurmont with a lot to consider.

The Behavioral Health Services division of the Frederick County Health Department was awarded nearly $23,000 in grant funding from the Maryland Department of Health last year to launch a feasibility study for a syringe service program — commonly called needle exchange. Jessica Ellis, the program’s coordinator, laid out what the program could look like in Frederick County and what places with syringe services — such as the city of Baltimore — have seen as a result.

An increase in people seeking drug treatment, a reduction in crime, and a decrease in new diagnoses of HIV and hepatitis C have all been linked to needle exchange programs, Ellis said. The programs have not been linked to new drug use.

“It does not mean acceptance. It does not mean it’s OK to keep using drugs,” said Commissioner Martin Burns, who has spearheaded a community response to opioid and heroin use in town.

What it could mean is a way to access drug users and introduce them to resources. Ellis shadowed a syringe service program in Baltimore where she witnessed drug users ask the staff about recovery and detox services that had been mentioned to them during previous exchanges.

Baltimore reported that drug users utilizing a syringe service program were five times more likely to enter treatment than drug users not using the service.

For Commissioner Wes Hamrick, the ability to access drug users and provide them resources that could lead to recovery was what flipped his view from opposed to supportive — admitting that he came into Tuesday’s meeting opposed to the program.

In the last six years, Hamrick has helped with funeral services for 24 young adults.

“It’s numbing. It’s infuriating,” Hamrick said.

The presentation had the opposite effect on Commissioner Bill Buehrer, who said he was still “absolutely opposed” to the idea. Under a previous Board of Commissioners in 2012, the town passed a ban on synthetic drugs and the proposed syringe program contradicted that law, he said.

He was also upset by the Health Department’s response that non-users of illegal drugs, such as people with diabetes, would be screened to see if they had the financial resources to buy and dispose of needles before being able to access the program.

“I’m sick and tired of ‘these services are free.’ They’re not free. They’re paid by tax dollars,” Buehrer said.

The Health Department would need permission from the town to use a space or park a vehicle where the needle exchange would take place inside the municipality. The program would be run by trained staff, not the town.

Members of the Thurmont Police Department attended Tuesday’s meeting, including Chief Greg Eyler and Lt. Allen Droneburg. In the meeting, Droneburg asked a recovering addict in the room if he believed he would have had the presence of mind while in the throes of addiction to get to a syringe service location on time.

The recovering addict, Mike Shilling, who now works for the Frederick County Department of Health as a peer recovery specialist, said that he would.

Shilling grew up in Thurmont and said it wasn’t until he surrendered and accepted help — help that would also be offered to addicts using the syringe service — that he stopped using drugs. Mayor John Kinnaird said that while he had not always supported Shilling’s life choices, he was happy to see him in recovery.

“If we can save another Mike, it’s worth it to me,” Kinnaird said.

A week earlier, the Thurmont Police Department confirmed its officers had responded to two fatal overdose calls in January. Ellis also said that on average, Frederick County is responding to one overdose a day and one overdose death a week.

Members of the Thurmont Addiction Commission, which was created to advise the Board of Commissioners, also attended the meeting. Several of the members have children in recovery or who have died of an overdose.

“Our role today is we’re observing and listening and then we’ll come together and as a group come to a consensus in what we think is appropriate,” said the commission’s chairman, Jay Churchill.

The commission planned to make a formal recommendation to the mayor and Board of Commissioners on whether the town should move forward with the program.

The Health Department plans to make similar presentations in other Frederick County municipalities and communities, although none have been scheduled.

Follow Samantha Hogan on Twitter: @SAHogan.

Samantha Hogan is the state house, environment, agriculture and energy reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

(13) comments


Frederick County’s addiction epidemic is occurring in the best economy in recent memory, imagine what’s going to occur when the economy goes into a recession?


The FCSD has evolved into a political retaliation operation and the county a junkie and criminal magnet under the leadership of Sheriff Jenkins.


To those speculating on what happens with such a program (do people stop going, does it make the problem worse, and so on), there are ample examples around the US and the world to answer your questions. As to the "nasty addicts" comment, it is a disease like cancer or diabetes where people often get it because of their actions. If you support cutting off help for addicts how do you justify helping smokers or overweight people? Are only perfect people with no vices eligible for help?


No it's not like cancer as these people CHOOSE to put drugs into their bodies.


Smokers "chose" to make themselves susceptible to lung cancer. They CHOSE to put that drug in their body. I'm guessing you've never been close to someone who is an addict.


At the end of the day it's a choice. I know people that eat pretty much nothing but poison but what can I do? Don't eat that, smoke that or drink that. People are going to do what they are going to do


Has Jan taken a public position?


Jan isn’t the Sheriff who’s failed miserably to control the opioid epidemic in Frederick County


How many drug addicts will be willing to trust this needle give away? Do the police have access to names of those that use it? I would think as they could not hide it, even if they tried.


Nobody talks about stopping the source of drugs???????????????


Because the illegal drug trade is a multi hundred billion dollar industry which sustains millions of jobs in the US.


Sounds good in theory but I agree to the “free services” thought. Why do the addicts get the free stuff? If I had a choice where my money (tax) went not one penny would go toward drug addicts or programs. As far as the needle exchange it wouldn’t last long in my opinion. Once the nasty drug addicts go to and from the exchange points and realize they are getting stopped by police more frequently they will stop coming. These would be great places to “set up” and get info on who comes and goes. Wait..maybe this needle exchange isn’t such a bad idea.


In addition to “Reducing the Harm with Injection Drug Use” we need to initiate, support, and highlight the programs that “Reduces Drug Use” like reducing the number of prescriptions for opioids.
Important Considerations: 1. An addict that discards a dirty needle in a public place, no doubt has a source for a needle for his/her next fix (several hours away), probably a clean needle (if not, why discard a dirty one).
2. If the idea is to identify those who are 'using' so they can get help (a good idea) then one needs to consider:
b. Using this mechanism to identify those needing help, needs a solid plan and the capacity to actually deliver that help. Unfortunately, comprehensive county drug detox services are not readily available and recovery services are beyond stretched to the limit.
Unless these services are available immediately, and are an integral part of the program, we are doing a disservice and creating more harm (stress and frustration) for those seeking help. Waiting times of days, or even hours, are unacceptable because, in the interim, a user will no doubt get his/her next ‘fix”. and could change their minds.
Getting people to want and seek help is necessary but not sufficient.
According to SAMHSA, nationally, of the users who currently want help, there are about 25% who, for various reasons, can not obtain it.
This then is a “cart before the horse approach”.

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