Everyone in Bangor knows we have a substance use disorder crisis in our community. It has affected so many people and we don’t have the resources in place to fully address the issue. And frankly, the city of Bangor lacks a comprehensive strategic plan to put those resources in place. Safe consumption sites need to be part of that plan.
The state of Maine is trying to give communities like Bangor a new tool to help those with substance use disorder who are actively using drugs. They’re called by different names: harm reduction centers, safe injection sites, safe consumption sites, supervised injection sites, to name a few.
What are safe consumption sites?
- They are safe, hygienic spaces, where individuals can use illegal drugs under the supervision of trained staff.
- They provide sterile supplies to prevent infection and the spread of diseases. They collect the supplies immediately after use and dispose of them properly.
- They offer drug screening to check for lethal additives like fentanyl.
- They have Naloxone on hand in case overdose and offer lifesaving interventions.
- They offer connections to drug treatment other supports.
Let’s clear up the myths about safe consumption sites.
- They DO NOT offer or sell drugs. Individuals must bring their own.
- They DO NOT encourage drug use.
- They DO NOT teach drug use.
- They DO NOT increase crime.
Check out this short video below. They use the term overdose prevention centers, but it is the same concept as safe consumption sites.
Why does Bangor need safe consumption sites?
Safe consumption sites are backed up by numerous scientific studies that prove their effectiveness in solving problems related to substance abuse. Not a single peer-reviewed study has indicated that these centers are a bad idea and can cause harm to cities. In fact, they check all the boxes for solving problems related to substance abuse:
- Saves lives (nobody has died from an overdose in one of these sites)
- Increase chance for individual to seek recovery from substance use disorder
- Reduces syringe litter
- Does not increase drug-related crime, and can potentially reduce it.
- Saves communities money by reducing usage of emergency services (i.e. 911 calls, ambulance rides, ER visits)
One of the most significant benefits of safe consumption sites is that they prevent overdose deaths. No one has ever died in a safe consumption site. Additionally, these sites provide referrals for recovery. Nobody is forced or pressured to take a referral, but the conversations keep happening. This means that people who come to use these sites are taking their first step to recovery without even realizing it. As long as they keep coming back, at some point, they’ll accept the help they need.
Moreover, safe consumption sites can reduce syringe waste. People are currently complaining about syringe waste in Bangor, and with the implementation of these sites, this problem can be addressed. Furthermore, drug-related crime is not increased by opening safe consumption sites. They save money by reducing ambulance trips and emergency room visits that people with substance use disorder who are actively using might need otherwise.
Are there any reputable studies that show any negative impacts of opening safe consumption sites?
I’ve been searching and still haven’t found any. If there were terrible implications, that would have jumped out in all of these studies. All in all, safe consumption sites have nothing but positive outcomes. Sadly, even though there are so many positive benefits to safe consumption sites, some of the Bangor City Council members didn’t even bother to look at the evidence. They said hurtful things and made uninformed statements during the workshop.
Tell me you didn’t read my email without telling me you didn’t.
Every Friday the city of Bangor emails out the city meeting agendas for the following week. On Friday, April 21st when I discovered City Council would be discussing safe consumption sites, I emailed Bangor City Councilors with a bibliography the Drug Policy Alliance put together of over 40 studies showing the positive effects of safe consumption sites.
Bangor City Council held a workshop on April 24th where they discussed the potential implementation of harm reduction centers, also known as safe consumption sites, in the state of Maine. If passed, this legislation would allow municipalities like Bangor to approve the building of such centers in their city.
During that meeting Bangor City Council Chairman, Rick Fournier made two deeply misinformed statements:
“I don’t want Bangor to become a magnet for addicts.”
“Why don’t we send a message to El Chapo’s kids and tell them there’s a safe consumption site.”
See the video below.
The Chairman’s words matter. Stigma prevents progress.
Fournier’s statements were derogatory and stigmatizing. By trying to associate people with substance use disorder with criminals, he perpetuates negative stereotypes and reinforces the stigma that is already prevalent in our society. While he did apologize later on, his apology fell short because he didn’t apologize for the messaging. He merely apologized for using the words “addict” and “El Chapo’s kids” instead of “substance use disorder” and “drug cartels.” The real problem was the messaging, and changing the wording wouldn’t have fixed the issue.
Statement #1: “I don’t want Bangor to become a magnet for
addicts substance use disorder.”
He apologized for the use of the word “addicts” but simply changing the word does not change the message. He is referring to people with that statement. People can have substance use disorder, but they are not their disorder. People can and do recover. He doesn’t apologize for the message: if you have substance use disorder, you are not wanted. Get out of Bangor and stay out.
Statement #2: “Why don’t we send a message to
El Chapo’s kids drug cartels and tell them there’s a safe consumption site.”
Likewise, he apologized for saying “El Chapo’s kids” and feels he should have said “drug cartels.” There’s so much to unpack here. I won’t get into the racist implications of his original word choice. But even if he had said “drug cartels” originally, what is he implying? He’s implying that these centers would bring even more illegal drugs to Bangor, criminal activity, and violence. If he had taken the time to simply skim the bibliography of peer-reviewed scientific studies I provided the previous week that was compiled by the Drug Policy Alliance, he would have seen that crime and drug use actually decreases in the areas where safe consumption sites are opened.
Challenge to the Council: Refute the evidence, provide your own, or get out of the way.
I challenge the Chairman and Councilors opposed to safe consumption sites to come to the table with reliable scientific studies supporting their opposition. Stigmatizing statements is not an acceptable argument. With so much evidence in favor of these sites, they absolutely need to justify their position.
If there was evidence that showed how these safe consumption sites destroyed communities, got people killed, or regularly increased crime wherever they are installed, show us! They need to lay out their case with facts, not stigma.
City Councilors needs to make their decision based on facts and evidence instead of standing in the way of saving lives because of their own willful ignorance. If they are not capable of casting aside their own misinformed stigma when presented with reputable evidence, they need to recuse themselves from this decision.
We need at least one safe consumption site in Bangor.
We are in a crisis with substance use disorder. We need every tool we can get to address it. Safe consumption sites show tremendous promise and bring no unintended consequences with it. These centers save lives, increase chances someone will enter recovery, reduce syringe litter, and save money on ambulance rides and ER visits. Bangor will be better for it. We just need our leaders at City Hall to open their eyes and look at the evidence.