PORTLAND, Maine — As the opioid crisis persists in Portland and throughout the Pine Tree State, Mainers say it’s hard to go a single day without meeting someone who has been impacted by it.
"It’s real. Anyone that wants to walk around and be in this area -- you’ve got to be familiar with it, whether it affects you or not," said Portland resident Michael Hayes.
Portland OPS took to Monument Square Thursday to chat with locals about how they can make a difference. The non-profit is advocating to change Maine’s drug policy from a criminalizing approach to one that they say leads with love.
"We are talking about harm reduction, so that’s needle exchanges, that’s naloxone access, things like safe injection sites, overdose prevention sites," said Lizzy Handchy, co-executive director of Portland OPS.
Portland OPS says that caring-based approach also addresses the need for systemic policy change.
"We also have stigma against people who use drugs written into our policies, right? If we’re thinking about substance-use disorder, if we believe that it’s a health problem -- why are we putting people in jail for that? That’s not a compassionate approach," Handchy said.
Hayes says he’s been homeless for six years because of his own battle with substance use.
"I’ve seen it all. I still visit people. I just asked the needle giveaway program people, 'How do I get access and training for Narcan?' Because I now have people I know -- people who I may walk with, sometimes in the library and in this area -- that may need it," Hayes said.
Hayes says he’s looking for every opportunity to help another person in need.
"What I can do is be here today and ask them how I can help, which is what I just did. Because I need to give back, and maybe this is the way."