Maine has been severely impacted by the nationwide overdose epidemic. Between the years 1997 and 2020, 4,796 residents of Maine have lost their lives due to drug overdoses, according to the Maine Drug Data Hub.
Furthermore, an estimated 636 people died of overdoses last year, according to Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center acting director Dr. Marci Sorg. That is up 23% from the 502 people who died in 2020.
In response to Maine shattering its annual record for overdose deaths, the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project (ME-RAP) has, for years, been kicking down doors, passing legislation, and providing community-based solutions to this crisis. And they have no plans of slowing down.
Augusta resident Courtney Allen is the ME-RAP Organizer Director who is also a person in recovery. “Our main priority is helping people survive all of the systems in our society that work against people in recovery and people who use drugs,” she explained. “Until we can fix those systems, we must do our best to keep our community members safe. No one can make positive changes in their life once it’s gone.”
ME-RAP held a wrap-up session over Zoom in May where they highlighted all of the work the team did this past legislative session – and the team sure was busy this year! Some accomplishments include strengthening the state’s Good Samaritan Law concerning drug-related medical assistance, prohibiting excessive telephone, video, and commissary charges in Maine jails and prisons, and expanding recovery community organizations throughout Maine. Check out the wildly impressive full review of Maine’s 130th legislative session.
Maine’s platform has four components, Courtney explained, and they are justice, access, connection, and recovery.
“Our community includes people who use drugs, people in recovery, people with a history of incarceration, our allies, and many others,” she said. “We believe that recovery means any positive change, and we support all pathways to and of recovery – everything from harm reduction to abstinence and every place in between.”
During the most recent legislative session, the team advanced legislation that touched on each of the core pillars of the state’s platform, Courtney continued.
“We expanded Maine’s Good Samaritan Law to address justice. We changed the law around syringe availability to address access. We lowered the cost of phone calls in jails and prisons to address connection. We were a major player in the law deciding how the opioid settlement monies will be used in Maine to support recovery,” Courtney said.
The biggest success of Maine RAP this year was their success around expanding the Good Samaritan law. “Ahead of the first Senate vote on the bill, we knew we had 17 votes, but we needed 18. We ended up with 22!” she said. “It was so rewarding to see all of the work we did leading up to that vote pay off. We testified, phonebanked, emailed, posted, and so much more, and it got the Legislature’s attention.”
When the bill finally got to the Governor, Courtney continued, the team expected a veto, but instead, they were met with an invitation to collaborate and worked closely with the Governor to reach a groundbreaking agreement to protect people overdosing and rendering aid from prosecution or arrest for most non-violent crimes, including all drug crimes.
“If you had told us a month ago that the Governor would meet us at the table to craft this policy, we wouldn’t have believed you,” she explained. “Everyone counted us out, sometimes even ourselves, but we stuck to our values and organized like our lives depended on it – because they do.”
This summer, the team plans to conduct another series of listening sessions around Maine to develop the new platform. ME-RAP has been wildly successful in so many initiatives that it will be so interesting to see what else they can do to help folks who need it.
“ME-RAP does so much more than change laws,” she said. “We are changing our own lives, too. We are becoming experts in the legislative process, we are building confidence in sharing our personal stories, and we are forming relationships that will support our recovery. Maine RAP is impacting lives on an individual, local, and state level!”
If anyone is interested in joining ME-RAP, please contact Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org. They meet virtually on Tuesdays at 1 pm EST.