The Maine House of Representatives voted narrowly Thursday in support of legislation that would allow cities and towns to authorize safe consumption sites for drug use.

It’s the latest and perhaps boldest effort from lawmakers to combat an opioid crisis that has ravaged the state for nearly a decade and claimed a record 716 lives last year alone.

The 77-66 mostly party-line vote followed emotional and sometimes surprising floor speeches both in support and opposition. The measure now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. It’s also not clear whether Gov. Janet Mills, a former longtime prosecutor, would sign or veto the bill.

Rep. Lucas Lanigan, R-Sanford, told colleagues he used to think drug use was a choice and that people with substance use disorder could simply stop using.

He used to think the overdose-reversing drug naloxone was just a means to extend someone’s life so that they could go out and use again.

He used to think the only approach to the drug crisis was imposing strong penalties on drug users.


“I’m here today to say I was wrong,” Lanigan said from the House floor. “And how I know I was wrong, I lived it.”

Lanigan then shared a story about his son, who turns 21 this week, overdosing a couple of years back. He was revived with naloxone but even that experience didn’t stop his use. He continued for seven more months until finally asking for help.

Today, Lanigan said, his son is seven months sober. He works 40 hours a week and has “given back to his community what he’s taken from them.”

“I couldn’t be more proud to have him as my son,” he said.

He said if allowing communities to create safe consumption sites saves just a small percentage of lives, it’s worth it.

“This bill costs Maine taxpayers nothing,” Lanigan said. “My side of the aisle should love that.”


Other Republicans, though, offered strong opposition.

Rep. Reagan Paul, of Winterport, said she doesn’t think the state should adopt a “policy of permissiveness.”

“It will cost lives and impact the quality of life for all,” she said, calling the idea an “all-carrot-and-no-stick approach.”

Rep. Robert Nutting, of Oakland, worries that creating safe sites would lead to decriminalizing drugs. He also said the proponents’ claims that such sites save lives because no one overdoses and dies there is misleading.

“No one has died at one of these, and I believe that’s true,” he said. “But they act as magnets that attract people who are addicted to drugs to a site that becomes a death trap.”

Rep. Sam Zager, D-Portland, called the proposal a bold approach to rescue people from dying on the streets.


“I’ve heard people say they act as a magnet. Yes, that’s the point,” he said, referring to the idea that once people are using drugs in a safe manner, they might eventually be referred to treatment.


The concept of safe consumption sites has been around for decades and always has been controversial, but it has gained popularity in recent years as the country continues to lose a record number of lives to drug overdoses. West Coast communities have tried them, and New York City now has two centers as well. Previous attempts to allow them or create them in Maine have failed.

The Maine bill, sponsored by Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, only authorizes communities to allow such sites, which would be staffed by medical personnel. Users would receive immunity from arrest or prosecution from possessing or using drugs there. It won the support of several advocates, including the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project.

One of the major factors, proponents have said, is the explosion of the synthetic opioid fentanyl on the market. Many users don’t know how powerful and deadly the drugs they are buying really are.

Lookner said he introduced the bill, L.D. 1364, on behalf of friends and then listed nine names.


“None of them could be here today because they are among the thousands who have died,” he said. “They were all young and had full lives ahead of them, and their deaths could have been avoided. It’s time that our state cried mercy.”

In his remarks, Lookner also pointed out that the American Medical Association has concluded that safe consumption sites reduce deaths and infectious diseases like hepatitis.

Other lawmakers who testified in support said Maine has nothing to lose. Few other things have worked in the ongoing fight against opioids.

“Drugs are in every community we represent, and it doesn’t matter how we feel about them, they are there,” said Rep. Nina Milliken, D-Blue Hill, who shared that she was addicted to heroin years ago. “I’m begging you to support a radical act of love today for people like myself.”

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