A sharps container for drug needles hangs on a tree in Tent City behind the Hope House in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A local nonprofit organization will soon hire someone to pick up the used syringes in Bangor that have proliferated the city for months.

Bangor city councilors unanimously approved giving the Bangor Health Equity Alliance nearly $29,000 on Monday so the nonprofit can hire a new “syringe waste specialist.” The person will be a full-time Health Equity Alliance employee, but the $28,990 from the city covers the cost of contracting the person to pick up used needles around Bangor part-time for one year, according to Patty Hamilton, director of the Bangor public health department.

The approval of the new position comes more than six months after the city’s public health department first began looking for solutions to the dirty needles littering public spaces throughout the city. The needles pose a public health risk in addition to being an eyesore.

“We’ve heard numerous requests from citizens, both those who have been downtown and people with private property, where they’ve been experiencing unwanted needles that have been discarded and they need help rectifying the situation,” Councilor Cara Pelletier said. “This is a step forward in that direction.”

The money from the city is opioid settlement money, which the state collects from litigation with companies, including Teva and Allergan, accused of manufacturing or distributing the drugs that contributed to the opioid crisis. That settlement money is then distributed locally and can be used to support measures that fight against the ongoing opioid crisis, such as drug disposal and harm reduction.

The new syringe waste specialist will be responsible for cleaning up used needles left on both public and private property throughout Bangor. Property owners will also be able to direct the specialist to syringes that need to be collected through the Go Bangor app, by phone or via email.

When the new staff member isn’t cleaning up needles, the person can educate the community on safe disposal practices and, upon request, supply people with safe disposal equipment such as biohazard containers and puncture-proof gloves, according to the proposal.

The new employee will also collect data on how many used syringes they collect for the city.

In addition to being licensed and having the equipment necessary to safely dispose of dirty syringes, the Bangor Health Equity Alliance is one of Bangor’s two organizations that is licensed to distribute clean needles as a harm reduction measure. Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness in Bangor is also licensed to distribute sterile needles, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

While it may seem counterintuitive, supplying people who use drugs with sterile needles protects them from contracting bloodborne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C, from used or shared contaminated syringes.

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...