• Health Equity Alliance

How Yes on Question 2 Will Benefit Our Community

Health Equity Alliance has Maine’s largest network of Harm Reduction programs. We work directly with people actively using drugs, advocating for them, supporting them, walking with them in their journey. In any given year, HEAL serves more than 1,500 people actively using drugs throughout Northern Maine – people caught in the thralls of substance use.

HEAL provides syringe exchange services, to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and we distribute naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, directly to people who are using drugs to reduce drug overdose deaths.

We work hard to ensure that people emerge as healthy and whole as possible – because the tough love approach, doesn’t work… letting people ‘hit rock bottom’ today is a death sentence – and you can’t recover if you’re dead - this gives us a unique vantage point from which to speak up for the victims of the much-decried opioid crisis – the many Mainers whose lives have been impacted by substance use.

It is from this vantage point that we support Question 2 on the ballot next week. During the last decade, we’ve watched as the opioid crisis has escalated steadily, spinning out of control. Last year we saw Maine break its own record for the 5th year running, with 376 drug overdose deaths, more than one a day.

Meanwhile, Maine CDC disease surveillance data indicate a silent epidemic of hepatitis C transmitted through sharing injection drug equipment. Far less acute, less immediate than a drug overdose, hepatitis C, or HCV is nonetheless a serious public health threat. Often asymptomatic, hidden, this blood-borne virus silently degrades its victim’s livers for a decade or more before they become aware of its presence - left untreated, it can be fatal. Today it is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. And, all signs suggest that Maine bears a disproportionate burden compared to other states - with a rate of acute hepatitis C more than twice the national average.

America has been grappling with drugs for well over century now. We’ve pursued, we’ve punished, we’ve imprisoned... and one thing is clear - after more than 100 years of approaching the problem the same way – it’s not working – we need to try something different.

During the past four years, HEAL has been at the vanguard of a new approach to substance use - we’ve worked hard in the legislature and in the community to pass common sense policy that addresses these issues - policies that save lives… increasing access to naloxone, trying to make treatment more accessible, trying to bring substance use out of the shadows where it has been confined for decade. But all this while, since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2009, the state of Maine has been sitting on one of the greatest tools in the toolbox to address the opioid crisis – MaineCare expansion. Three times – THREE TIMES – this has come up in the legislature – and three times it has been blocked.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen progressive reductions in MaineCare eligibility – leaving people without health insurance, without care, ripped from drug treatment, ripped from their lifeline.

So, today we ask voters to say yes to Question 2. Let’s put the matter directly into the hands of the voters – let’s give them to opportunity to do what the legislature hasn’t been able to – to expand MaineCare.

Question 2 means access to treatment – the opportunity to turn their lives around, for many of those caught deep in the thralls of addiction, their best chance to be functional, contributing members of society. It means access to life-saving medical care and medications, to treat serious conditions like endocarditis, or hepatitis C. It means access to prenatal care, to try and reduce the incidence of drug affected babies. It means fewer days in jail or in prison, because as law enforcement professionals will tell you, jails have increasingly come to be holding cells for people with what amounts to a medical condition, because there are so few other resources available – take away the dependence on drugs, the need to obtain them whatever the cost, and you take away the motive for any number of related crimes. It means fewer drug overdose deaths, because less drug use = less drug overdoses.

In the end what we ask is simple – take 15 minutes to get to your polling place on November 7th - YOU can save lives, you can change lives… vote yes on Question 2 on the ballot, expand MaineCare to address the opioid crisis.

by Kenney Miller