In 2018 one person lost their life to a drug overdose each day in Maine. One often-overlooked explanation to our overdose crisis is our failure to embrace harm-reduction principles.

Harm reduction is a movement centered on respect and compassion for people who use drugs and uplifts both people who use and have used drugs as experts in developing policies and programs that serve them. Harm reduction seeks to reduce the negative consequences of drug use, including communicable diseases, poverty and death. Harm-reduction programs in Maine are often heavily restricted, including our syringe exchange services.

A recent court ruling in Philadelphia has sparked hope for harm-reduction advocates nationwide. Safe injection sites fight overdose deaths with clean tools for use, immediate access to naloxone and contact between drug users and medical professionals, who can act as a bridge into treatment. Currently, 120 of these sites operate worldwide.

A U.S. district judge ruled that safe injection sites do not violate the Controlled Substances Act in seeking to “reduce drug use, not facilitate it.” Advocates, including Philadelphia’s mayor, can now move forward on the nation’s first safe injection site. Support in Maine includes candidates for Portland’s mayor, the Maine Coalition for Sensible Drug Policy and Portland OPS.

This ruling gives us – people who both love and have lost people who use or used drugs, as well as people who have experienced the pain of the opioid epidemic in our communities – an opportunity to move forward with harm-reduction policies that will make a difference.

Melana Dayanim


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