I grew up in Lewiston surrounded by my extended French-American family. I’m an only child, but I have grandparents, cousins and aunts in town – nearly 50 of them live in the Lewiston area to this day.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite family members to hang out with was my cousin Sam. He was like a brother to me, we grew up riding bikes, building forts, and playing Sonic the Hedgehog on his Sega Genesis.
We are the same in many ways and we had similar struggles with depression and substance abuse later in life. But because Sam used opioids and I used alcohol, our experiences were very different. Because opioid use is so stigmatized and while I can get support, he has very little. And today, I’m still alive. Sam is dead.
My cousin passed away alone at home in August 2021 from an accidental drug poisoning. His body was not found until five days after his death. He was 34 when he died, leaving behind a son.
last year, More than 700 People die from overdoses, like my cousin. They are our sisters, brothers, colleagues, neighbors, parents and children. If we had treated it like a substance use disorder—a public health problem—all of these people, including Sam, might be alive today.
I strongly believe that things would have been different if Sam had had more access to the community and had supportive people to address his drug use challenges. That’s why I support the Health Center for Harm Reduction.
Harm reduction health care centers are places where people can use previously acquired medicines under medical supervision. At the same time, they have access to disease screening and other health care services, as well as the option to begin recovery.
If Sam had been in a harm reduction health center the day of his overdose, he probably wouldn’t have died that day. In fact, No deaths at the injection site were reported. That’s in stark contrast to the 716 overdose deaths in Maine last year. Harm Reduction Health Centers save lives.
There are more than 200 harm reduction health centers around the world—including New York City, Rhode Island, Soon, Minnesota— and A lot of study show that they improve health outcomes, reduce overdose deaths, and increase access to medical care. These centers save lives.
Now a bill in the legislature, LD 1364will allow Maine towns and cities to open harm reduction health centers if they choose after an approval process involving public meetings.
That means communities that want to open harm reduction health centers can do so — but those that don’t are under no obligation. The bill legally protects the center’s employees and clients, as well as the municipality in which it is located. The centers will not cost the state government money as they will be funded by the federal government. And, absolutely most importantly, the Harm Reduction Health Center in Maine will save lives.
No matter who we are or what our lives are like, we are all human, and nearly all of us have been affected in some way by the opioid crisis. most of maine Believe that drug users should not be considered criminals and that substance use disorders should be considered a public health problem. Our legislature now has the opportunity to take real action and create a world where we care about each other.
Genevieve Lysen is the organizing director for the People’s League of Maine and a certified rehabilitation coach. She lives in Lewiston.
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