Harm reduction, saving lives, and breaking laws

I was talking with a friend about bringing more attention and removing systemic barriers to addiction recovery. He was considering getting himself arrested as a political statement. I found myself thinking that I wouldn’t mind getting arrested if it would help the cause.

But not all my friends and I agree on what the cause is.

I say it’s about saving lives through any means possible.

Remember when it was illegal to possess Narcan without a prescription? I had two doses in my office at all times. It was simply the right thing to do. I didn’t tell anyone about it early on. My staff knew to call 911 and grab me if there was an overdose.

Dr. Noah Nesin is one of my personal heroes. He publicly announced he would prescribe Narcan to anyone sight unseen. That was a beautiful humanitarian act and it was blatantly illegal at the time.

As a state and as a country, it frequently takes us far too long to do the right thing. Then years later, we wonder what we could have possibly been thinking at the time.

Here’s the next absurd law that needs to come to an end:

In our state, a person is guilty of illegal possession of hypodermic apparatuses if they possess 11 or more hypodermic apparatuses.

This makes non-certified/volunteer needle exchange programs illegal. There really should be no controversy over discarding this law.

Clean needles are a form of harm reduction. They reduce the spread of diseases like Hep-C and HIV. Some folks view providing clean needles as a form of enabling. That is a dangerous form of misguided thinking. No person living with substance use disorder has ever said,

“I can’t do heroin today because I only have dirty needles.”

Reducing communicable diseases is a commonsense, cost-saving approach. Moreover, engaging with people who live with substance use disorder is humanizing and simply the right thing to do. I get to do it all the time and I have a very simple message that I stole from my friends in Narcotics Anonymous:

“I love you and I believe in you.”

I appreciate the work my friends at the Church of Safe Injection are doing. They’re saving lives, reducing the spread of diseases, and upholding the dignity of our brothers and sisters.  I understand their presentation is easily seen as blasphemous and off-putting to many.

I also understand that we ought to be more outraged by the loss of lives and steadily rising rates of addiction.

Perhaps measures that promote addiction prevention, treatment, and harm reduction should be viewed in a similar fashion to having faith in God: It does harm when we focus on differing ideologies and creates opportunities when we focus on what we agree on.

Let’s agree that saving lives is always good.

Let’s agree that Maine is severely lacking in education & prevention, detox facilities, and the distribution of Narcan and clean needles.

Then let’s work together to make a world in which our children more easily avoid these perils and our loved ones who live with substance use disorder can more readily overcome it.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim is the cofounder of Sobernow.com an online addiction recovery program that is affordable and provides complete anonymity