Grand Traverse County Commissioners Approve Harm Reduction Program

A Northern Michigan county is saying yes to a needle exchange program.

Last month, we told you about Traverse City commissioners approving a harm reduction program and just last week, Grand Traverse County commissioners voted to approve it in the county.

“Our communities have experienced a huge amount of loss and trauma, death, disease, avoidable infections,” said co-director at Harm Reduction Michigan Maya Doe-Simkins.

A program intended to help fight the growing opioid crisis our region is facing.

“What these services offer are, for people who are actively using drugs, some opportunities to access new syringes and other injection equipment with the underlying goal of both preventing HIV and hepatitis c infection also preventing other infections,” said Doe-Simkins.

In a five to one vote, Grand Traverse County commissioners voted to move forward with the needle exchange program.

“If this is the case, what else should we turn a blind eye too?” said Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley.

The decision didn’t come without concerns.

“We fully understand the reasons behind it, where we object is that as a law enforcement department, illegal drug use is still illegal,” said Sheriff Bensley. “To help and support that illegal use of drugs with a needle exchange is something that we cannot support.”

But Harm Reduction Michigan says they have seen the positive impact these programs have.

“Syringe access programs promote public health, promote engagement in services, promote sense of self and wellbeing and all of the things we’re concerned about like does it send the message that using drugs is okay does it endorse drug use, it doesn’t do that,” said Doe-Simkins. “We don’t see any more increase in drug use in communities that have syringe programs.”