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

Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.

We’ll start with a simple thought: Those who use syringes should not be dropping them on the ground, just as others shouldn’t be discarding their litter anywhere outside of waste receptacles.

Last fall, volunteers collected thousands of used syringes from Bangor’s parks and walking trails, despite the fact that there are 10 boxes around the city meant to collect these needles. This littering is unacceptable and has led to increasing complaints for city residents, visitors and business owners.

This week, the Bangor City Council unanimously approved a plan to pay $29,000 a year to have someone pick up used needles in the city. Cleaning up this dangerous waste is important and necessary work, especially because it is coupled with the collection of data that should shed light on the scope of the problem.

However, it is frustrating that city leaders were quick to support the syringe clean up when several of them have been resistant to some recent efforts to help the people who use them.

Leaders in Bangor have done a lot to support and help people in recovery. However, recent denigration and demonization of people with substance abuse disorder can undermine this complex — and often frustrating — work.

During a discussion in April about safe consumption sites some councilors made inappropriate, offensive and hyperbolic comments about people with substance use disorder. We recognize the concerns many have with substance use, including the waste that is sometimes left behind, but dehumanizing people who use substances – and equating them with international drug traffickers – isn’t helpful as the state, and city, struggle with a years-long opioid epidemic.

Soon, thanks to legislative action this week, Maine may know more about safe consumption sites, and their benefits and problems. This can help communities, like Bangor, make better informed decisions about whether to allow them.

Safe consumption sites, also called harm reduction health centers, are places where people can go to safely use substances, including those that are currently illegal. Syringes used at these facilities would be disposed of inside the facility, which could help to alleviate the waste problem.

A bill to allow safe consumption sites in Maine, if communities approved them, was unexpectedly passed by the Maine House but rejected by the state Senate last month. The bill was then amended to call for a study of the facilities. On Tuesday, both the House and Senate passed, and funded, the study legislation.

In June, we wrote that we understand the reluctance to endorse safe consumption sites. “We were uncomfortable with them as well,” the BDN editorial board wrote.

“However, as it has become increasingly clear — as evidenced by the increasing number of overdose deaths each year — that what we as a state are doing to help those with substance use disorder hasn’t been enough, it has also become clear that no option, including uncomfortable ones, should be dismissed out of hand,” the editorial said.

Safe consumption sites are one of those options. Sites in other countries have been shown to reduce overdose mortality, drug use and infectious diseases among those who use them, and they can also link people with opioid addiction to treatment. However, they are in legal limbo here despite President Joe Biden’s administration signaling last year that it might be open to their operation despite laws against them.

The first sites in the U.S. opened in New York City in late 2021 and Rhode Island became the first state to authorize them that year. The federal government recently funded a study of the New York and Rhode Island facilities, but that review has yet to begin.

The sites are likely not a panacea for the opioid crisis, which took the lives of 716 Mainers through overdoses last year. But, they may help reduce overdose deaths and improve syringe disposal. Like the cleanup of used syringes, they are worthy of a respectful and thoughtful discussion.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...