Kathie Williams (left) of the Larry Labonte Recovery Center in Rumford, Lt./Assistant Jail Administrator Kaitlin Armstrong of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, and Glenn Gordon of Oxford County Mental Health Services’ OPTIONS program have started distributing harm reduction kits, which are bags of resources for people with substance use disorder, to take when they are released from jail. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — “We are looking to provide a “warm hand-off’ into the community,” explained Lt./Assistant Jail Administrator Kaitlin Armstrong of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office. “That’s Sheriff Wainright’s phrase. Instead of, ‘here’s your bail, there’s the door, good luck and don’t come back.’ When residents leave here we want them to leave with opportunity.”

Opportunity comes in all shapes and sizes. The opportunity Armstrong was referring to is a collaboration between the OCSO, Oxford County Mental Health Services’ OPTIONS program and the Larry Labonte Recovery Center, the latter two both based in Rumford.

Glen Gordon, outreach clinician with OPTIONS, and Kathie Williams, director for the Labonte Recovery Center, have been working with Armstrong to supply jail residents with an easy-to-keep tool kit upon their release. Each one contains contacts and phone numbers, and supplies and resources that just may help someone at risk for substance use make a different decision when they are once again on the outside. He calls them “harm reduction kits.”

Gordon invited the Advertiser Democrat to tag along when the three met on April 15 as Armstrong prepared to distribute some of the kits. The packages are a work in progress; Gordon said he’s distributed about a half dozen recently. Equipping the sheriff’s office with them is a new tactic in his mission to reach as many people struggling with substance use disorder as possible.

That Friday, Armstrong said someone took a kit along with him as he walked out to freedom.

“He was kind of unsure,” she told Gordon and Williams. “We don’t make anyone take it, but we said ‘it’s got this and this, and this,’ and he accepted it.”


The kits do not contain whole solutions, but aids for people who may not have a job, a ride or a destination when they are released from the jail.

“Most of the people here sober up while they’re in,” Armstrong said. “The release part of it, they’re terrified because they’re clean and they want to stay clean. But when they go back to that same living environment they’ll be exposed to it,” risking relapse.

Each kit holds a help packet with information on MaineCare and food stamps and other assistance that Gordon began supplying local police departments with last year, which they distribute to people they came in contact with through their patrols.

There are laminated contact sheets for substance use disorder support groups in the Oxford Hills, Mahoosuc and River Valley areas, listing meetings and locations by days of the week. For practical help, there are small first-aid kits, dental hygiene packs, hand sanitizer and lip palm, along with a cotton garment that can be used as a head covering, gaiter or mask. Each kit has a reusable water bottle, pen and pad of paper, and instructions on how to open a bank account.

The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office is equipping residents with harm reduction kits when they are released, with the goal of helping them maintain sobriety on the outside. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Importantly, each kit has items that could save a life if someone finds themselves in a situation where they (or a friend or family member) are using illegal substances. Fentanyl test strips can keep tainted drugs out their system and nasal spray Narcan can resuscitate someone who is overdosing. Each one also has a copy of Recovery, a magazine produced in Maine, to learn about local meetings, or read stories of someone in recovery which may provide enough comfort to get through a day or night.

Armstrong suggested some disposable gloves would be a good addition.


“Out in the streets you don’t know where it’s (fentanyl) going to pop up,” she said. “It sounds silly, but with the testing strips, I’d rather they test it to make sure everything is safe.”

Armstrong is using the materials already in the kit to create a pamphlet to distribute to family and friends who come to the jail for visits.

“Often, a person comes in who is the primary wage earner for their family,” she said. “Now mom and kids, or dad and kids, they don’t know what to do. Their income provider is locked up. We want them to have a packet that if the officer knows the family is hurting, they can go back and give it to them.”

When Armstrong receives visitors for residents, she asks them if they need health care or food assistance, or even housing. She will provide applications for those who request them. A pamphlet that a suddenly single parent can take with them is one more resource that can keep a family safe while it navigates through incarceration.

In western Maine, too many of those in jail are there because of their substance use disorder. A warm hand-off in a bag can be a valuable tool for them to greet freedom.

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