Shame – it’s a feeling most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. We felt alone, unworthy, and full of self-doubt. We usually remember those isolated times because they impacted us so deeply.

For people with active substance use disorder, shame is not a one-time feeling they are able to escape from. In a society that forces those in active addiction into the shadows, shame is a constant companion, a constant feeling of inadequacy, and a constant sense of incompetence. Drugs are a way to try to escape and hide from the naked exposure shame induces. Feeling undeserving of help, shame becomes a barrier to self-help, and keeps people in the cycle of addiction, with shame feeding the disease.

Healing from shame calls for a radical approach. It requires a safe, accepting environment where one can build trust, allow vulnerability, and feel worthy of getting treatment. Providing overdose prevention sites (OPS) is one answer to shame and this desperate disease. The ONLY reason they have not existed in the United States is because of the shame, stigma, and discrimination our culture brands people with, who have the disease of substance use disorder.

While the politicians in Augusta have their “hands tied” to legalize OPS statewide, we can create a pilot site in one of our hardest hit areas – be it in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston or in rural Aroostook County. With a little effort, a few supplies and donated funds, one town or city can be the first small step to stop the dying in Maine.

Meanwhile, let us all look ourselves in the mirror and see how we contribute to shame every day, in every action and thought we have about people, humans like us, who suffer from this terrible disease.

Elaine Shamos