Reducing Opioid Deaths in Maine
Resolution #3 adopted by Diocesan Convention 10/26/19
Submitted by Maine Episcopal Network for Justice
RESOLVED that the Diocese of Maine reinforces its support for C037 – Call to Respond to Opioid Epidemic submitted by Province I and passed at the 79th General Convention; and be it further,
RESOLVED to direct the Maine Episcopal Network for Justice to advocate for the State government to address this issue as a public health crisis, affirming that opioid addiction is a disease, which needs adequate resources for treatment options and support the decriminalization of individual drug use and possession as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce opioid deaths in Maine.
Decriminalizing drug possession and investing in treatment and harm reduction services can provide major benefits for public safety and health, including:
Reducing the number of people arrested;
Reducing the number of people incarcerated;
Increasing uptake into drug treatment;
Reducing criminal justice costs and redirecting resources from criminal justice to health systems;
Redirecting law enforcement resources to prevent serious and violent crime;
Diminishing unjust racial disparities in drug law enforcement and sentencing, incarceration, and related health characteristics and outcomes;
Minimizing the social exclusion of people who use drugs, and creating a climate in which they are less fearful of seeking and accessing treatment, utilizing harm reduction services and receiving HIV/AIDS services;
Improving relations between law enforcement and the community; and
Protecting people from the wide-ranging and debilitating consequences of a criminal conviction.
Countries that have adopted less punitive policies toward drug possession have not experienced any significant increases in drug use, drug-related harm or crime relative to more punitive countries. A World Health Organization study, for example, found that the U.S. had the highest lifetime drug use rates by a wide margin, despite its punitive policies -concluding that decriminalization has little or no effect on rates of use.
By any measure and every metric, the U.S. war on drugs - a constellation of laws and policies that seeks to prevent and control the use and sale of drugs primarily through punishment and coercion - has been a colossal failure with tragic results. Indeed, federal and state policies that are designed to be "tough" on people who use and sell drugs have helped over-fill our jails and prisons, permanently branded millions of people as "criminals", and exacerbated drug-related death, disease and suffering - all while failing at their stated goal of reducing problematic drug use.
This resolution focuses on one practical step that can and should be taken to avoid many of the harms that flow from punitive prohibitionist drug laws and to promote proven effective health-based interventions. Drug decriminalization is a critical next step toward achieving a rational drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration.
Decades of evidence has clearly demonstrated that decriminalization is a sensible path forward that would reap vast human and fiscal benefits while protecting families and communities.
Drug decriminalization is defined here as the elimination of criminal penalties for drug use and possession, as well as the elimination of criminal penalties for the possession of equipment used for the purpose of introducing drugs into the human body, such as syringes.
Ideally, drug decriminalization entails the elimination of all punitive, abstinence-based, coercive approaches to criminal penalties, even if such efforts do not eliminate all forms of coercion entirely.