It’s about time.

As we come into 2023, our state appears to finally be leaning more heavily on a critical aspect of its anti-overdose strategy: the distribution and use of naloxone, or Narcan, the nasal spray or injection capable of reversing opioid overdose, the leading cause of drug deaths in Maine and nationally.

“Maine is consistently trending up on naloxone use and access.” That’s according to Parrish Perry, the operations director of Maine Access Points, a harm reduction organization with locations throughout rural Maine providing syringe access services, overdose prevention education, peer support and advocacy — and access to Narcan.

Perry is backed up by the latest statistics: naloxone reversals increased from 1,511 from July 2020 to June 2021, to 2,329 during the same period in 2021-22. The distribution of naloxone more than doubled from 43,950 doses in 2020 to 93,125 through October 2022.

That means the use is now beginning to more accurately reflect the devastating extent of the opioid epidemic. Efforts to expand community access by the Mills administration are bringing Maine closer to achieving an important goal: that the antidote be made available to anybody who might be able to use it.

Getting there will require a full recovery from years of damaging rhetoric that painted Narcan as unhelpful, responsible for “normalizing” addiction or acting as a corrupting safety net for at-risk drug users. Most infamously and conspicuously this line of thinking was touted by former Gov. Paul LePage, who in 2016 said: “Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

This is a callous, small-minded position to take on an intervention that can be life-altering. Narcan is easy to use; even 15 minutes of training can equip interested members of the public with the knowledge and skill — and the Narcan, often for free — we need to assist somebody. And as Portland Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor noted in his recent reporting, it goes well beyond offering a “second chance.”

“Some people are getting third, fourth and fifth chances, surviving repeated overdoses because they were given Narcan in time,” Lawlor wrote.

It put us in mind of a 2018 column by Seth Blais, a person in recovery and volunteer recovery coach. “The first time I overdosed, it was on an ordinary night in my own home,” Blais wrote in a Morning Sentinel column. “I narrowly escaped death, but this wouldn’t be the last time I would overdose before eventually finding recovery. I understand that this doesn’t make any sense unless you’ve experienced it yourself.”

While understanding is improving, more and better is needed. No, the opioid crisis will not be solved by Narcan, which was never intended to stand alone. With a renewed push for an improved statewide strategy, and greater understanding again, we can ensure it does not.

A heightened focus on fighting overdoses, and the degree to which we’re doing it, has other meaningful benefits. And there’s mounting evidence that the prevailing thinking is continuing to evolve. Last month, the White House introduced a new tracker for nonfatal drug overdoses, designed to “put data to work” to better inform and sharpen state and municipal responses to the opioid epidemic. Until its debut, federal agencies generally tracked only fatal overdoses.

The problem with that is, as Blais put it very plainly in the same column, “You can’t recover if you’re dead.”

Reprinted from the Portland Press Herald.

Goodbye and thanks to Chase’s Daily

As the new year begins, the Belfast and Waldo County communities say goodbye to an old friend. Chase’s Daily, a fixture on Belfast’s Main Street for 22 years, served its last meal to a large and loyal following on Dec. 31.

The Chase family’s farm-to-table approach to the popular vegetarian restaurant/market was years ahead of its time and an inspiration to the community.

Efficient, friendly and knowledgeable service was Chase’s calling card for over two decades. Chase’s will be fondly remembered, and sorely missed. We wish the Chase family — Penny Chase, Addison Chase, Phoebe Chase, Meg Chase and Freddy Lafage — and Chase’s former employees all the best on the trail ahead.