Augusta, ME –(ENEWSPF)—June 5, 2017. The end of 2016 saw record high drug overdose deaths for the 3rd year running and the announcement that Maine had the 5th highest rate of acute hepatitis C in the nation, largely transmitted through use of injection drugs. Faced with these facts legislators have been wading through a multitude of proposals to address Maine’s ongoing opioid crisis, and even designated legislative task force to develop and vet solutions for consideration.
While many proposals have focused on drug treatment and prevention, one in particular has divided Democrats and Republicans alike. In the near future the Maine House and Senate will take up LD 1375, An Act To Prevent Overdose Deaths and Infectious Diseases by Establishing Safer Drug Use Facilities.
Informed by programs in Europe and Canada, as well as similar legislation introduced in at least 4 other states in the US, LD 1375 would allow for the establishment of two safer drug use facilities in Maine to study their impact on the opioid crisis. There was no fiscal note, and the sites would require the explicit consent of city government or a city-wide referendum. According to public health researchers there are over 87 drug consumption rooms in over 9 countries throughout the world.
Introduced by Representative Mike Sylvester (D – Portland) this somewhat controversial bill divided Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services, but surprisingly not along partisan lines. Lead by the Representative Patricia Hymanson (D – York), the Committee Chair, a majority of the committee recommended that the bill Ought Not to Pass.
“If you asked me two years ago, I would have said ‘no way’. But over the course of the last two years I realize that we have to be open to all possible tools to address this crisis.” Hymanson shared with the Committee, “However, while I am personally ready for this bill, I was elected to represent my district, and my district, the state, is not.”
A surprising margin comprised of both Democrats and Republicans and lead by co-chair, Senator Eric Brakey (R – Androsoggin) recommended that the bill ought to pass, arguing that all options need to be considered in the wake of mounting deaths.
“This idea seems strange until you realize the magnitude of the problem that Maine finds itself in.” said Sponsor Mike Sylvester, “We are losing one Mainer a day to this disease. If you believe that Substance Use Disorder is a disease then this is a health crisis of the first magnitude and you are willing to try any avenue to solve it. If you choose to blame the victim instead then you worry about cost or morality rather than the cost of real lives or the morality of standing by and doing nothing.”
“This bill begins a discussion around a paradigm shift that will seem foreign given this country’s historic approach to addressing drug use, but is in fact being done in other parts of the world with tremendous success.” Testified Representative Karen Vachon (R – Scarborough).
“The evidence is there,” said Kenney Miller, Executive Director of the Health Equity Alliance and co-founder of the Maine Harm Reduction Alliance, “safer drug use facilities save lives. The research shows that they can reduce overdose deaths, reduce hepatitis C and HIV, and increase access to drug treatment, all while having no impact on crime whatsoever. The debate isn’t around whether these facilities work or not. It is about whether or not Maine people are ready for this. But as a Mainer, I’m ready to try anything that’s going to keep people from dying. And this bill would do that.”