I [support] Overdose Prevention Sites because we are concerned about the safety of individuals in our community who use opiates and remain at high risk of overdose and death.
The mission of Preble Street is to provide accessible barrier-free services to empower people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty, and to advocate for solutions to these problems.
At Preble Street we have been on the frontlines of Maine s public health crisis of opioid overdose. Five years ago, We had never responded to an overdose in any one of our buildings. Not one. Then, four years ago, a young man was discovered on the floor of our soup kitchen bathroom with a needle in his arm, not breathing, his lips blue. It was the start of a terrible trend that has continued to grow.
Two years ago, Preble Street caseworkers responded to an average of one overdose every 8 days. At Preble Street, we have a practiced overdose response protocol and that year every 8 days we worked together to save the lives of
people experiencing opioid overdose.
However, existing beside our carefully developed, evidence-based protocols that are reversing overdoses and saving lives, we see many people still struggling to access the services and support they need to reduce risk and stay healthy.
Over the last year and a half, Preble Street has committed to supporting individuals who use substances through programming and partnerships designed to increase access to recovery supports, including medication assisted treatment.
These efforts have engaged dozens of individuals who are now pursuing recovery and living more stable lives, however, we also acknowledge that our tools are very limited for people who are not yet ready to engage in recovery.
We regularly refer people to programs like Portland Public Health’s Needle Exchange program for safe use supplies, and we routinely engage substance users in non-judgmental conversations with a harm reduction approach. This means that we talk to people about how they can be as safe as possible when they use substances, even if they are not interested in full abstinence. However, these harm reduction supplies and measures are incomplete without a safe and secure location for people to self-administer previously obtained substances.
Just last month, I referred a young man who was looking for safe supplies to a community resource. Once he had the clean supplies he needed to use safely, he then turned to myself and the community health worker who had assisted him and asked us where he could go to use safely. This man did not want to overdose and die, but he also was not ready to stop using. His choices were limited, and he left our sight without a clear plan. We found out later that he had used in the restroom of a public space, and employees there were forced to call emergency services to respond to over sedation.
These situations not only tax our community s resources, but they also create deep shame for the substance user. Several of the people we provide services to at Preble Street carry this shame and guilt around public overdoses as well as incredible gratitude at the life saving work that emergency responders and community members provide.
Substance use disorder is a harrowing disease, and the path from active use to full abstinence is not one that we can define for one another. Giving someone access to a safe and secure space in which to use substances under the care of a medical provider will not only save lives, but it will also help restore dignity to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.