A recent poll, led by University of Maine professors R. Glover and K. Sporer during July and August 2021 and shared this week, found that of the 400+ Mainers, a majority believe the priority is to treat people who have opioid and general drug use disorders rather than punish them under the law.
These findings comprise the first-ever study that looks at what Maine residents believe should be official drug policy in view of the state's record number of overdose deaths in the last two years.
Advocates advanced bill LD 967 for drug decriminalization and the introduction of treatment programs in 2021, which passed the House but died in the Senate after facing mainly Republican opposition.
The poll found that more than 75% of voters support the funding of accessible detox services, medication-assisted substance use treatment and local recovery community centers in every county as well as similar support for ensuring imprisoned people still have access to substance use disorder therapy.
The researchers said that Mainers interviewed belonged to different political parties, and most likely differed in their education, employment, religion and any other demographic. But they all agreed on the need for a new drug policy approach. “It’s very clear in the data,” stated professor Sporer.
Regarding harm reduction strategies, voters supported some and remained hesitant on others. Specifically, 76% are in favor of distributing overdose reversals and 49% even back funding local syringe exchange, while 30% oppose that policy.
Nonetheless, almost 50% of respondents would oppose installing saferin the state’s metropolitan areas, while approximately 30% would vote in favor and 20% remained neutral.
Despite these results, professor Glover said support for a treatment-based approach for drug abuse has grown significantly over the last years, and in this sense there is a possibility of increasing people’s approval of safe consumption sites as they learn more about them. “I think that is the next horizon," said Glover.
The poll also found 59% of voters support strengthening the social safety net including taking care of the root causes of substance abuse, 53% support requiring data on race, ethnicity and socio-economic status for interactions between law enforcement and the public, and 57% would include the cases of people with substance use disorder within non-discrimination policies.
The survey’s final part, composed of in-depth interviews with policymakers, treatment providers and community members, revealed that the main reasons why public opinion shifted and now supports therapy are education on the topic, understanding recovery can take different shapes and even personal situations where they saw themselves implicated in a related or direct matter concerning drug use disorder.
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