- Health Services Director
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.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
I will be graduating with a degree in social work and political science next month from the University of Southern Maine. l have been working within the recovery committee in a variety of roles over the past few years Last summer and fall, I attended conferences on harm reduction, and I was immediately hooked on the concept and the research behind it. This is an evidence-based practice grounded in a public health approach rather than a criminalized one. It's clear that what we are doing has not been working. The War on Drugs has failed; it has failed our country, our communities, and the individuals we are sworn to serve. We saw 418 Mainers die last year due to overdoses, and we are on track to exceed that this year. I would argue that these were all preventable. With access to harm reduction information and increased availability of social services, many of these deaths would not have happened. Why have overdose prevention sites? It seems like something unheard of - why would we create a space for people to use drugs? When we identify the risks of drug use - overdose, public injection and littering, reusing supplies, and disease transmission - all of these can be mitigated by overdose prevention sites. It is time to change our approach. Two people in our state will die today. lt is time to do something different.
Representative, District 39
People who come there [to overdose prevention sites] have safe needles, clean supplies, a safe place to be and are with people who care about them. If someone experiences a fatal dosage or concoction, there will be people there to treat them and keep them from dying. At that moment when someone says, I don't want to do this anymore, there will be someone there to lead them into the options for recovery. In fact, that is a thing that we know in the places where overdose [prevention] sites have been implemented, they have become among the most successful modalities to lead people with substance use disorder to treatment. The effectiveness of these sites is not a question.
Portland City Council
- Councilor - District 1
I know this idea freaks a lot of people out, but the data is pretty clear: safe injection sites decrease overdose deaths, reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis, get more people into treatment, and cut down on the number discarded needles found in outdoor spaces.
Quoted in the Portland Phoenix - Nov 1, 2018.
- Co-Executive Director
From the perspective of someone that has once struggled through the recovery process, harm reduction is the safest and most effective alternative. I support the boldness of acknowledging the problem and tackling it head-on with an OPS for people struggling with addiction in Portland.
As a city and a community, Portland has the capacity to provide better care for folks who use drugs. We already have the resources and knowledge to better address the opioid epidemic in the city, but the barrier of stigma is standing in our way. Overdose deaths, injection site infections, HIV and Hepatitis C, and other health problems folks who use drugs experience are completely preventable. By bringing together medical professionals and folks who use drugs into the same location, an overdose prevention site would effectively provide folks who use drugs in our community the health care they deserve. I'm excited to work with Portland OPS to open a city-sanctioned overdose prevention site to save lives in our community.
Dignity for Opiate Users
- Program Coordinator
We must take action now to provide safe spaces for people to access clean needles, drug testing for lethal additives and access to the overdose antidote naloxone. These sites, successfully established in other countries, have experienced zero mortalities among them, while people are watched over and provided with education and resources for recovery if requested. Let us stop the dying now and argue what is right and what is wrong later.
Read full statement
There are many opinions about safe injection sites, but opinion has no place in medicine: only evidence. The evidence is that safe injection sites save lives, increase connection to treatment resources, reduce new cases of HIV and hepatitis, and yes, even reduce the presence of contaminated needles out in the community.
You can’t help a person if they are dead! We need to keep people alive so that they can be treated and recover. People with substance use disorder are among the most stigmatized and discriminated in our health care system and in our society. Everyone needs to educate themselves about this chronic disease, which affects people of all ages and backgrounds and is the number one cause of death for people under 50. We need to open communication about solutions, face our fears, and act now to stop the dying from the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes. OPS is a first step which can be implemented now!