Where do community-based organizations think the dollars should go?
October 6, 2022
Dollars from the opioid litigation have begun flowing to states and local jurisdictions and into communities. We spoke with Hilary Eslinger, the Director of Operations, and Chasity Tuell, Northern Maine Director of Harm Reduction Services, at Maine Access Points, a community-based harm reduction organization, to find out how the organization hopes the litigation dollars will be used to help the community.
Tell us a little bit about your organization and the services you offer to the community.
Maine Access Points is a community-based harm reduction organization that serves all sixteen counties in Maine, focusing on geographically isolated and rural communities. Our mission is for all people to recognize the resiliency and humanity of people who use drugs, and to work, in collaboration with all community members, to create access points for overdose prevention and harm reduction services.
MAP offers mobile syringe access programs in Aroostook, Oxford, Washington, and York counties, and provides the following services to people across the state of Maine:
- Overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution;
- Syringe access programs;
- Collective organizing and advocacy;
- Community-based research and knowledge-sharing;
- Participant-driven community education;
- Overdose prevention consulting and capacity building; and
- Post overdose follow-up
MAP, like many other harm reduction organizations, does more than just service provision. Can you tell us more about the approaches you use to include people who use drugs in your work?
MAP centers people who use drugs in everything that we do and we continue to lead the state in developing effective and meaningful overdose education and harm reduction support. Over the last couple of years, we have put a focus on building up our advocacy efforts to organize and change our harmful drug policies in Maine. Part of these efforts included advocating for legislation that added seats on the “Recovery Council” that oversees the litigation funds, including a harm reduction seat to ensure the voices of people who use drugs would be reflected on the council. We advocated for this seat to be given to an actual harm reductionist, and MAP’s Northern Maine Director of Harm Reduction Services, Chasity Tuell, was appointed by the Speaker of the House.
As an organization we have made the commitment to hire current and former people who use drugs and to include different community stakeholders in our programming decisions and our organizational and leadership structure. We have developed a leadership model that facilitates collective decision-making among all staff and encourages the voices of our participants to be included in programmatic decision-making.
MAP plays a unique role in Maine, providing low barrier naloxone access through our network of peer distributors in all 16 counties as part of the Maine Naloxone Distribution Initiative; we’ve distributed over 80,000 doses of naloxone since we began our distribution in 2019. MAP has seen program growth as we respond to the increased need. When MAP’s distribution began in 2019, we had one paid staff member. From the start of the pandemic until April 2022, we were a team of four and in the past six months have grown to seven paid staff. Given the size of our team our reach depends on deep relationships across the state.
What could more investment from the settlement mean to programs like yours?
At MAP we are advocating that the opioid settlement funds be used to move forward harm reduction programming and build collective capacity through sustainable funding. We understand the impact this could have on promoting innovative ways of reaching our rural neighbors.
With sustainable funding comes the opportunity to move beyond scarcity and engage in meaningful conversations and engage our imagination as we look toward building systems of care for our state. With litigation dollars from the opioid settlement, MAP could increase our capacity for our rural communities, purchase a mobile harm reduction unit to meet people exactly where they are at, and have the necessary resources to ensure that our staff and community of harm reduction workers have the care that we need to do this work for years to come.
We need these funds to go to the work that is centered in undoing the harm associated with the drug war and engaging our collective imagination as we move towards a space of healing.
What advice to have for other community-based organizations who are hoping to see a piece of the litigation dollars in their state?
It is so important to hear directly from the community about how these funds can best support people who use drugs and those who have been affected. MAP works with our program participants to identify our policy goals and how best to organize around funding streams. We are all experiencing so much grief…part of healing is also finding our collective voice in how to move forward the potential for additional resources for our community. Creating solidarity with other harm reduction organizations who have shared values and goals is central to this work. We recognize that scarcity works to create division in our networks and at MAP it feels so important to move together with our allies towards a place of critical imagination and a liberated framework.
For more information on Maine Access Points, visit: www.maineaccesspoints.org