The York County Sheriff’s Office is teaming up with local health care providers to provide harm reduction bags to people as they are released from the York County Jail.

Sheriff Bill King said the “vast majority” of those incarcerated in York County have some type of substance use disorder. Officials believe the harm reduction bags will provide tools to help them make a safe and drug-free transition into the community.

The bags will contain brochures with numbers for resources and support, birth control measures, fentanyl test strips and naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication. Fentanyl overdoses accounted for 76 percent of all confirmed overdose deaths in Maine last year.

“Whatever we can do to have a successful reentry is what we’re striving for,” King said.

The harm reduction bags are being offered through a collaboration between the sheriff’s office, Southern Maine Healthcare, Sweetser and Maine Behavioral Health. The bags will be distributed starting Wednesday evening.

One of the participants in the pilot collaboration will be OPTIONS (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone and Safety), a program of the Maine Office of Behavioral Health.

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“We are passionate about harm reduction and helping those in need get connected to services. I have personally seen the impact that access to harm reduction supplies can have in our communities,” Alyssa Pelchat, clinical supervisor of OPTIONS and crisis triage manager for Sweetser, said in an email. “OPTIONS is contributing wound care kits, handouts about area resources and crisis services, and hand sanitizer key chains to York County Jail’s harm reduction backpack initiative.”

Naloxone is another possible lifesaving item that inmates will receive from OPTIONS. Pelchat said the opioid overdose reversal medication is available without a prescription for anyone who feels they might need it. She said the U.S. Surgeon General in 2018 recommended that naloxone be treated the same way that people carry first aid kits.

“We know that naloxone saves lives, and OPTIONS is proud to distribute it to those who need it,” Pelchat said.

Maine is battling a persistent opioid crisis, with fatal overdoses on the rise since the beginning of the pandemic. During the first four months of 2021, the state reported 199 confirmed or suspected drug overdose deaths, putting it on pace for nearly 600 overdose deaths this year. The state reported 504 fatal overdoses in 2020.

More information about substance use disorder support and resources is available by calling 211, emailing [email protected], visiting the Maine 211 website, visiting the state’s Know Your Options resource page or visiting the DHHS Office of Behavioral Health’s resource page.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

This story was changed at 8 p.m. on Dec. 8, 2021, to correct the affiliation of the Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone and Safety initiative. It is a program of the Maine Office of Behavioral Health.

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