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In-Depth: Mainers argue for safe-injection sites

At least one person dies every day to a drug overdose in Maine. (WGME)

PORTLAND (WGME) – At least one person dies every day to a drug overdose in Maine.

The numbers from the Maine Attorney General are staggering, climbing higher every year, and forcing many to ask, “What more can be done to save people's lives?”

We know the story.

We don't know the solution.

Now, some are asking for an open mind when it comes to finding a fix.

Jesse Harvey is in recovery, and runs the sober living facility "Journey House." He's asking Portland's city council to consider safe injection sites.

“For people who are still actively using, what if they don't want to go to rehab, what if they don't want to go to detox, what if they want to continue to use, by not offering them opportunities to do that safely we're effectively sentencing them to death,” Harvey said.

A safe-injection site is a place where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision.

According to drugpolicy.org, there are approximately 100 sites in 9 countries worldwide.

While there aren't any in the U.S., Philadelphia and Seattle have plans in the works, Boston and New York City are also considering them.

Mayor Ethan Strimling wants to add Portland to that list. He supports the idea, saying discussions are happening at City Hall.

“I'm always looking for new ways of trying to confront the opioid crisis, and what I'm intrigued about with this idea is it creates yet another opportunity for somebody who is using to have an interaction with a medical professional,” Strimling said.

With the rising number of overdose deaths, Portland isn't the only place talking about this. Lawmakers in Augusta started debating safe injection sites more than a year ago.

Democrat Mike Sylvester represents Peaks Island, and sponsored a bill that would have allowed safe-injection sites in Maine last session.

"It was just to say the state of Maine thinks it's a good idea people not die in isolation, that if someone were to overdose, that someone would be right there with some naloxone," Sylvester said.

The Health and Human Services Committee voted l.D. 1375. ought not to pass, and the full legislature voted it down. Democrat Patricia Hymanson chairs the committee.

"I thought it was an idea whose time had come," Hymanson said.

She supports the idea, but ultimately voted against the bill. She says there are still too many questions, and felt the people in her district wouldn't be ready for it.

"I know when I tell people who have not thought about this, at all they look at me with complete disgust and disbelief," Hymanson said.

While that bill is dead, Sylvester says the idea isn't. He plans on bringing it up again next session.

Harvey is keeping the discussion alive at Portland City Hall, but many questions remain. How would it work? Who would fund it? But Harvey says the most important question, has already been answered.

“There's enough evidence now showing that it works,” Harvey said.

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