Inaugural Safe Needle Exchange Program in Lewiston Honors Founder’s Legacy

Kari Morissette, right, executive director of The Church of Safe Injection, shares a tender moment Tuesday with Catherine Nash after Nash spoke about her son, Jesse Harvey, during an opening ceremony for the facility at 195 Main St. in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A program to curb the spread of illnesses contracted by sharing needles and paraphernalia was launched Tuesday afternoon on Main Street.

Bracelets fill a counter Tuesday at the Church of the Safe Injection at 195 Main St. in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Members of The Church of Safe Injection greeted the public alongside Catherine Nash, the mother of Jesse Harvey, the organization’s founder who died of a drug overdose in 2020.

“Jesse was the most loving and compassionate person on the planet. His kindness shone everywhere and everything he did with every person he touched,” Nash said.

Founded in 2018, the church’s mission is to fight for “the health, rights and dignity of people who use drugs,” according to a statement posted on its Facebook page. The new space at 195 Main Street is the premier brick-and-mortar exchange location for needles and other paraphernalia. The exchange program was started by Harvey, which distributed clean needles, tubing and Narcan to users in the Lewiston and Portland area.

According to a May report by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the University of Maine, 3,222 fatal and non-fatal overdoses were reported in Maine between January and May 2021, 247 of which resulted in death. The state reported 504 drug overdose deaths in 2020.

In 2021, there were 304 overdose service calls and another 11 involving multiple victims, resulting in 315 calls; 31 of them resulted in death, according to a study by a Tri-County mental health program. Narcan was given to 214 overdose patients, 129 of them by police.

Zoe Brokos, left, of The Church of Safe Injection, and Kari Morissette, center, executive director of the new facility on Main Street in Lewiston, chat on Tuesday afternoon with Catherine Nash, mother of church founder Jesse Harvey , during the opening ceremony. Videographers from television stations record the event. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“We distribute safe supplies in hopes of preventing people from reusing and sharing supplies to reduce rates of endocarditis, HIV and hepatitis C, and we distribute naloxone in hopes of reduce overdose rates,” said Kari Morissette, the church’s executive director.

An assortment of paraphernalia sits on the counter Tuesday afternoon at the Church of Safe Injection in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Zoe Brokos, director of operations since 2020, was a close friend of Harvey and ran the needle exchange program in Portland for 10 years. “We really felt the community coming together. This space was made possible by the community,” Brokos said.

“Jessie started the church out of (a) strong desire to create a religious organization where drug use was part of religious belief because the goal was, ‘How do we protect these people?’” said Brocos. “Sadly when he passed away his incredible spirit and ideas went with him, so Kari and I are focused on running harm reduction services in the state and rural communities that don’t always have the access they need.”

Clean supplies made available to users have proven their worth to reduce infection rates contracted through shared use or unsanitary conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The church program will run four times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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