A former opioid addict opened a 'church' that provides users with needles for drug use. Here's why that's more helpful than you may think.

John Moore/Getty ImagesA 26-year-old named Jesse Harvey who is a former opioid addict himself started what he calls the ‘Church of Safe Injection’ to give drug users access to clean needles, the Huffington Post reported.

The opioid crisis is still on the rise. In 2017, 2.1 million Americans dealt with opioid addiction, which includes drugs like prescription painkillers and heroin, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

Sometimes opioid addicts will even share needles with each other to fuel their addictions, but former drug user Jesse Harvey started what he calls the “Church of Safe Injection” to give drug users access to clean needles, the Huffington Post reported.

While it may seem backwards to help drug addicts continue to use, the 26-year-old’s concept has research-backed benefits. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the exchange of used needles has lead to the spread of HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. In response to this spread, 16 US states have allowed for the legal exchange of syringes and needles, hoping to decrease blood-borne disease rates.

Opioid use needleSpencer Platt/Getty ImagesHarvey’s service is unorthodox, but it does offer a way for people with drug addiction to stay safe and seek the treatment option that works for them.

To further help drug addicts, especially those who have been shunned from religious institutions for their substance abuse, Harvey opened his own clean needle exchange in the back of his Honda in Portland, Maine. The exchange, which he dubbed the “Church of Safe Injection,” is fuelled by the belief that “people who use drugs don’t deserve to die,” Harvey said in an op-ed he wrote in the Maine Press Herald.

Needle exchanges like Harvey’s are controversial, but can stop the spread of dangerous diseases

When a person is addicted to opioids, they will stop at nothing to get their fix and might even use unsanitary needles that could spread diseases like HIV. In fact, when the CDC interviewed 112 people who contracted HIV in 2017, they discovered 96% of them had injected themselves with drugs using shared needles, INSIDER previously reported. Harvey knows of this trend firsthand, so he opened his needle exchange program to keep drug addicts as safe as possible.

In Maine, however, Harvey’s service isn’t allowed: Anyone who possesses more than 10 syringes at a time without a state-issued licence is breaking the law, Huffington Post reported.

The Church of Safe Injection certainly houses more than 10 syringes. In fact, 18 branches of his church have been set up across the United States and are run based on the three rules Harvey set forth: Each “church” must accept anyone of any religious faith or lack therefore, serve marginalized people, and support the safety and health of drug users.

Read more:
There’s a science-backed treatment for drug addiction that works – but it’s nearly impossible to get

To do that, Harvey parks his car near a park where Portland drug users convene and hands out free clean syringes plus Narcan, an overdose reversal medication. “Politicians, law enforcement, and health care haven’t taken the lead here, so our church is,” Harvey wrote in his op-ed.

Even though he is breaking the law to help drug addicts, Harvey said he will continue to do so, and even apply to make the church a nonprofit organisation. That way, he can set up a clean injection site instead of working out of his car.

Harvey’s service is anything but orthodox, but it does offer a way for people with drug addiction to stay safe and seek the treatment option that works for them.


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