Safer Use & Harm Reduction

Looking for guidance on safer substance use? Jump to the Tips section.

Fentanyl has changed how we prevent overdoses. Communities across Maine are saving lives by offering services, support and supplies to reduce harms that can result from substance use.

Education, engagement and connection.

When people are connected to support, they have more opportunities to learn and use safer practices. They can also access services if and when they want. There is a strong network of syringe service programs and other organizations across Maine that help people to stay safe.

Knowledge and connection are powerful tools to reduce harmful stigma against people who use drugs. Anyone can help by supporting harm reduction and taking action to be part of the solution in their community:

  • Learn how to identify an opioid overdose
  • Learn how to use naloxone, and have it on hand
  • Understand how stigma hurts people
  • Share materials to educate and reduce stigma in your community

Harm reduction saves lives.

Harm reduction is an approach that first accepts that people will use substances. It focuses on lowering negative impacts on people and communities. An important part of harm reduction is to respect autonomy and accept people where they are with their substance use. You make the decisions about your substance use, and you decide what recovery means to you. Harm reduction is backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a proven way to prevent opioid overdose and improve health and safety. Read the CDC Fact Sheet on Syringe Service Programs.

Providing access to resources and services that make substance use safer does not encourage more use. Decades of research have shown that some harm reduction helps prevent fatal overdoses. It also lowers rates of infectious disease. People who use syringe service programs are actually more likely to get treatment and to stop using substances.

There is no one-size-fits-all path. OPTIONS Liaisons can help you find the one for you.

Not every service, approach, or program is a good fit for every person. The Maine Office of Behavioral Health is supporting OPTIONS Liaisons in every county to help people navigate and access resources. This includes resources for harm reduction, treatment, recovery, and essential services like food and shelter. Liaisons can connect people to syringe service programs to get sterile supplies, naloxone, fentanyl test strips, hygiene products, wound care supplies, and other items that can help people stay safe.

You don’t have to use substances to reach out to your local OPTIONS Liaison. They can also help you get resources and support for a loved one. Find their contact information here.

Tips for Safer Substance Use

Whether you are someone who uses substances occasionally, regularly, or not at all, learn how to keep you and those you love healthy and safe. Maine’s drug supply is unpredictable, and the risk of accidental overdose is high.

Naloxone: have it on hand.

Get naloxone and know how to use it. Naloxone is vital to preventing or reversing an opioid overdose, including from fentanyl, which is now being found in all different kinds of substances. It is important to have naloxone available even if you do not believe you are taking opioids. Naloxone is easy to use and it will not hurt a person, even if they don’t need it.

If you use substances or know someone that does, you can get free naloxone in Maine. It is important for the people around a person using drugs to have access to naloxone in the case of an accidental overdose. A person using drugs will not be able to use it on themself. Visit GetMaineNaloxone.org to find naloxone near you. If you’d prefer to speak directly with someone in your area, your local OPTIONS Liaison can also provide naloxone.

portrait of an OPTIONS Liaison - smiling white woman with hair in a braid wears sunglasses and a black t-shirt with the slogan "naloxone saves lives"

Use in the presence of other people, or have a safety net.

Accidental overdose happens, but it doesn’t have to be fatal. When you use substances with someone you trust, or where someone can check on you, you make it possible for someone to reverse an accidental overdose.

If it is not possible to be physically with someone, there are free, trusted and anonymous options that use volunteers to stay on the line with you and call emergency services if needed.
Call Massachusetts Overdose Prevention Helpline (also serves Maine) at (800) 972-0590. For more information visit www.massoverdosehelpline.org.

Use new and sterile supplies.

You can get new syringes and supplies at a syringe service program (SSP). Some supplies include: syringes, naloxone, fentanyl test strips, tourniquets, cotton, cookers, sterile water, vitamin C powder, and personal protective equipment like gloves or masks. Many SSPs also offer sharps disposal and containers and additional services like wound clinics.

Test your drugs with fentanyl test strips.

Fentanyl is the main cause of fatal overdoses, and it is being found in opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, and other substances across Maine. Learn how to test your drugs for fentanyl. Learn about other safer use tips for uppers/stimulants. Fentanyl test strips are available at the following locations:

  • Maine Access Points (Statewide distribution): Call or text 207-319-8823 or email: info@maineaccesspoints.org
  • Health Equity Alliance (HEAL) (Penobscot, Hancock, Waldo, Washington): email: info@mainehealthequity.org
  • MaineGeneral Harm Reduction (Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Kennebec, Waldo, Lincoln, and Knox counties): Call 207-872-4102, M-F 8-4:30

Xylazine test strips are just being developed and are not yet widely available in Maine.

Start small and go slow.

This will allow you to test the strength of the drug and how you respond to it. If you are injecting, start with a small amount (maybe less than half of what you’d typically use) and wait 20 seconds to see how you feel. You can always take more, but you can never take less. If it feels off, consider using less or not using it.

Consider alternatives to injection.

Smoking or using a pipe is a form of harm reduction. While smoking is not harmless, it does reduce concerns like infections and wounds at the injection site, transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, soft tissue infections, abscesses, vein damage, and endocarditis.

Use just one drug at a time.

Even without fentanyl involved, speedballing (or using uppers (e.g. methamphetamine or cocaine) and downers (e.g. opioids) at the same time) can lead to a higher risk of overdose. Remember to test your substances and start small and go slow.

Get regular healthcare.

Many syringe service programs (also known as needle exchanges) offer free testing for HIV and hepatitis C and wound care services. If you inject or snort drugs, it’s recommended that you get tested for HIV and hepatitis C at least once a year. If you have a wound or abscess that does not get better using wound care supplies you can access from a syringe service program, they can refer you to a provider.

If you think someone is experiencing an overdose, call 9-1-1 and give naloxone immediately.

It can be hard to know if a person is having an overdose due to opioids. However, the drug supply is unpredictable and contamination with substances like fentanyl and xylazine is common. Give naloxone and get emergency medical services as soon as possible if you suspect an overdose. Learn how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose.

Maine’s Good Samaritan Law protects both the person experiencing an overdose and the person seeking medical assistance for anyone experiencing an overdose from arrest or prosecution for many crimes, including drug crimes.

illustration of a mobile phone calling 9-1-1


National Harm Reduction Coalition

Harm Reduction Works

For a complete list of resources in Maine, visit the OPTIONS resource page.