Once I was walking down the street with my mother when a disheveled, homeless person approached her. My instinct was to speed up to avoid an interaction. My mom stopped and smiled, recognizing her immediately. She was one of my mom’s most beloved patients.

My mom has worked with people facing drug addiction for almost 20 years. Because of pervasive stigma, we relegate those struggling with addiction to the margins of our society, and many end up homeless or incarcerated. However, my mom has always taught me that those struggling with substance abuse disorder are entitled to care and dignity just like any other member of our community.

Sadly, our politicians are so steeped in this stigma that they reject evidence-based solutions that save lives and money. Maine is the state with the sixth highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country; we have no other option but to take swift action.

Overdose-prevention sites are hygienic places in which people can use self-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained health care professionals who can administer naloxone, an overdose reversal drug. These sites also function as syringe exchange programs and gateways to treatment.

There are over 100 of these facilities across Australia, Europe and Canada. They have proven to save lives. In Vancouver, British Columbia, the neighborhood surrounding an overdose-prevention site witnessed a 30 percent decrease in fatal overdoses. In addition, about 50 percent of people who used this facility ultimately entered treatment programs. We cannot let people live in the shadows without proper care. Overdose-prevention sites provide a dignified space for those struggling with addiction.

We must work to save the lives of our community members; recovery isn’t an option for those who are dead. Empathy-based and evidence-based solutions are the only way forward. I thank my mother for teaching me this.

Livia Kunins-Berkowitz


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