Recovering from substance use disorder is immensely difficult and can be discouraging in the best of times. Why would anyone make recovery more difficult? It may not seem like it, but criminalizing and stigmatizing substance use disorder does just that.

Maine has harsh drug sentencing laws and a high rate of opioid deaths. Harsh sentencing does not decrease instances of drug use. Instead, the threat of a felony charge disincentivizes people who might otherwise seek professional help and erodes the trust necessary to keep communities safe.

Lawmakers can be proactive in taking substance use disorder seriously as a public health emergency. Instead of scapegoating the people who desperately need support, there is an opportunity to honor their struggle without putting additional obstacles in their way. The opioid epidemic has affected many of lives and, together, people can help end it, leading the way to a safe and healthy state.

Thankfully, more Mainers now understand the gravity of the problem and are working on solutions. The Maine Legislature is considering a bill that would decriminalize an epidemic, easing the burden on law enforcement to be first responders. “An Act to Reform Drug Sentencing Laws” (LD 1492) is a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of opioids and expand access to safe syringes and naloxone.

I hope that this bill will be passed in January by the Maine Legislature.

Cyan Hunte, Lewiston

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