Based on data, how effective is the Portland Needle Exchange Program?

Editor,

Re: Francis Flisiuk’s story “Addiction, Relapse and Overdose” in the Portland Phoenix Sept. 29.

To many people the Preble Street Resource Center and the Portland Needle Exchange Program are off-limits to any criticism. Ask too many pointed questions about the way they run programs and they label you a “hater.” Because of that there are few people willing to take a hard look at both these organizations. Both operate with a low (no) barrier approach to the availability of their services and both adhere to the principle of “harm reduction.” This is a large part of what makes Portland a destination for people struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse. And while much of the help that is provided by both PSRC and PNEP to this growing population is essential it is also enabling and dangerous to the surrounding community.

Data from the Maine Public Health Division’s Annual Report 2014 shows a total enrollment of 2,154 in the Portland Needle Exchange Program with 409 as new members. In Francis Flisiuk’s story he states that PNEP is “providing a discreet anonymous service to 800 people,” and I would guess that this is most likely the number of active intravenous drug users amongst the total membership. If this is the case, and with about 175,000 syringes being distributed yearly to this group, then it would average out to 4.5 new syringes per week per IDU. But the average heroin addict has to get high at least twice a day. Even if the number of active IDUs was only 400 the number of syringes being distributed by PNEP would still be inadequate to insure single use of a clean needle for every injection.

Within this scenario the number of needles used multiple times and shared would be increased while the number of uses each needle had would be less. This puts PNEP’s clients at a high risk of infection as well as increasing the number of carelessly discarded used (and potentially infectious) needles into the community. So is this “harm reduction” of the Portland Needle Exchange Program as effective as they claim?

Jay York

Portland

Substance abuse counseling center worker wonders if artwork for heroin story was right choice

Editor,

My name is Catie, and I work at a substance abuse counseling center here in Portland. First of all, I'd like to say, thank you for the wonderful article! Those of us on the front lines really appreciate any kind of awareness that can be brought to the epidemic we are experiencing currently with opiate abuse! Wonderful! Truly, thank you!

That being said, while I understand that putting a photo of a spoon and a needle on the front cover will certainly attract attention. I urge you to consider the population that is being affected by the epidemic when doing so. At the moment, copies of The Phoenix are all over town, everywhere you turn, there this photo is.

As someone who works with these people first hand, I can let you know, that this can be a HUGE trigger for some. I'm sure that this was not your intent, but with such a wonderful article on the line, I worry that this image alone will be enough to prevent some, from even picking it up. I'm not sure what image could have been used in its place, but I thought it was worth saying something, as recently, many articles I have seen (not just you guys) have been using this kind of imagery for the main photo.

I would think of it like this: If you were to feature an article about domestic violence in your publication, you would probably wouldn't use an image of a battered woman to reference it.

Just a thought, from someone on the frontlines! Otherwise, great, great article and keep up the good work!

Sincerely,

Catie Barron

Portland