A clean needle exchange

“Jesus would have supported safe injection,” argues Jesse Harvey, founder of the Church of Safe Injection. “All too often today, people who use drugs are offered only two choices: Get sober or die. Jesus would have rejected this shameful and lethal binary.”


On the streets of Portland, Maine, the Church of Safe Injection brings the idea of “community outreach” to a whole new level. Founder Jesse Harvey set out to create an unconventional religious organization – ditching traditional stained-glass windows and preachy sermons for a mobile faith operation designed to save lives. Instead of a physical chapel, he offers services from the trunk of a red Honda Fit.

The trunk contains what the 26-year-old grimly refers to as the “body and blood” of his mobile church: sterile needles, units of the life-saving opioid overdose medication Narcan, condoms, alcohol wipes – and bibles, just for good measure. The church is open to whoever is in need of salvation.

A New Kind of Faith

Jesse Harvey holds no degree in theology. He’s never been a pastor, and his church has yet to even register as a non-profit. All he’s got is a few volunteers, a Facebook page and an unnamed donor footing the bill. And although faith is involved, it’s not Bible verses his church is intent on spreading – it’s a chance for people with addiction to nurse their addiction until they’re ready to get clean. “Overwhelmingly, the churches I’ve reached out to aren’t interested in helping people who use drugs,” Harvey said, when asked why he decided to start his own.

Some recovering from addiction himself, Harvey understands the importance of fighting this battle on multiple fronts – and being aggressive in offering “harm reduction” solutions. Getting people sober and back to their normal lives is obviously the ideal outcome, but Harvey thinks the better approach is to meet people where they are and go from there. It’s far more effective to keep them healthy – and alive – even if that means continued addiction.

“Jesus would have supported safe injection,” Harvey wrote in a recent op-ed published in the Portland Press Herald. “All too often today, people who use drugs are offered only two choices: Get sober or die. Jesus would have rejected this shameful and lethal binary.”

It does remain a question whether or not this operation is actually legal. But Harvey is keeping his eyes on the big picture – this “disciple” of opioid safety has a bigger goal, that’s helping people. “This is sacred to us,” he explains.

Person injection drugsEnabling Junkies or Helping the Helpless?

It’s worth pointing out that needle exchanges and safe injection sites remain incredibly controversial. Critics insist that they completely avoid the root of the problem – addiction itself – and instead focus on treating the symptoms. Saving lives is a laudable goal, some argue, but passing out needles and Narcan willy-nilly essentially provides people with addiction a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to overdosing. With an antidote close at hand, they’re more likely to throw caution to the wind and take larger and larger doses of drugs.

Then again, it’s impossible to get clean if you’re dead. Perhaps this “harm reduction” approach is the best way to help people in the long run, even if it means enabling their addiction in the short term.

What do you think? Is the Church of Safe Injection providing a positive service, or is the better option to get people suffering from addiction directly into rehab?

 

41 comments

  1. Eric Norrbom says:

    As an agnostic minister, I believe every individual will follow whatever path life has provided for them. Who is anyone to judge another for their chosen means to follow their path. It seems this fellow has chosen a path to help others based upon his own unfortunate experiences with drugs. More power to him. I wish him success (admittedly this is a judgement on my part, but then we humans find it difficult not to have opinions).

  2. Past Security Enforcement Loss Prevention Officer says:

    With the way our world has become it just is not safe anymore to go to any public place. But does that mean we need armed security officers in our schools and our CHURCHES?
    Do you think guns against guns is the answer? I myself was in the security field for over 30 years. Retail Hospital Industrial security, I did it all. In that time I never was armed. But times have changed a lot. Do you think we need to have armed officers for our protection everywhere we go? And should they have just a 9mm hand gun or do they need a M16 or AR 15 . Maybe they need both. What do you think?

    1. Rev. Rene says:

      The Netherlands are emptying their prisons because of a change in treatment of minor crime, Portugal has ended (for all real purposes) criminalizing soft drugs and this caused a decrease in drug use! North America, however, remains in their 1950’s middle ages of a wanna-be white middle American ideal. Will they ever learn? Not likely in my life time, I expect. It is easier to maintain status quo, and under-educate the working class, keep wages low, keep profits high, and watch the economy fail eventually because nobody has any spending money left! Oh, the 1% has money, but they do not spend! Well done, anybody complaining just call them “socialist!”

      1. Eric Norrbom says:

        Amen!

    2. Eric Norrbom says:

      It’s our new reality. We closed all the mental institutions in California. Now our mentally ill are in the streets or in jails. Also we have a number of individuals who are disenchanted from society. There aren’t any simple answers, but the ever widening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” will not make the task easier to manage. It is what it is.

  3. Ronnie Williams says:

    At least rehab enforces the addict a chance to speak to GOD or receive a message from Him

    1. Lionheart says:

      Yeah right! Let’s totally screw the addicts up by getting them to speak to an imaginary person and tell them they will hear messages in their head giving them divine direction. Better still, send them to visit the Wailing Wall so that they can actually watch others, just as mentally ill, speaking and nodding to a brick wall. Then….when they are totally taken in by it all, and fully indoctrinated, let’s give them all the right to vote. 🙂

      1. Eric Norrbom says:

        Whatever works for them. If they choose to believe in God or whatever, and it helps them live, why not feel ok for them.

        1. Lionheart says:

          Yep, if drugs work for them why not feel ok for them? Same logic…right?

          1. Eric Norrbom says:

            Yep

      2. James Mitchell says:

        Isn’t one of the core tenets of ULC to recognize that everyone has the right to believe, or not to believe, as they see fit? Why are you putting down Mr. Williams for stating his belief? He is not trying to push his belief on you as you are on him. In my own way, I will pray for you.

        1. ET says:

          I agree. Amen.

  4. ed says:

    God would not support drugs in your body he would not give needles to junkies.26yrs ago i was a user i have been clean 26 yrs.Anybody that says God would approve is not walking with God.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Didn’t Moses come down from the mountain with two tablets? We also know that the god of the Old Testament condoned people being stoned. 🙂

    2. Wesley says:

      Ed great keep up it’s been 25 years since I drank or other drugs goes peace

    3. Michael Jay Anthony says:

      god gave us the means to give clean needles to drug users for a reason, and thats what we will keep on doing. god also gave you intelligence, and compassion for a reason, feel free to use those when you choose.

  5. b0blf says:

    ‘Jesus would have supported safe injection.’ What a crock!

    Jesus said HE is the answer, not drugs, therapy, or safe injections. Harvey is as much a minister/pastor as the man in the moon.

    Harvey hasn’t the guts or convictions or knowledge to point druggies to their ONLY cure . . . Jesus!

    1. Michael Jay Anthony says:

      Jesus gave us clean needles to distribute, and thats what we will do.

      1. b0blf says:

        Yeah, . . . . Jesus gave you clean needles to distribute. What a crock!

        What about condoms so HIV-ers can have ‘safe’ sex? Or, let’s give drunkards booze in an unused tankard? Maybe, distribute guns with blank ammo so robbers can rob ‘safely’?

        Jesus never gave you anything of the sort! The Jesus of the Bible came to save people FROM their sins, not to assist them to sin ‘safely’!

        1. Iconoclast says:

          By that logic, He gave us bodies so we can fornicate, eyes to view porn, mouths so we can talk filthily, hands with which to murder, buttoxes so we can expose them, etc. Yes, I see your point.

          1. ET says:

            We have free will, but society (whether of the church administration or governmental body) controls what consequences result from our actions.

  6. Gail D says:

    Helping the down-trodden, helping the sick; how is that not human compassion at its best? Kudos to Jesse for *doing* instead of pretending, ignoring, complaining, etc.

  7. John Owens says:

    I’m fairly certain Jesus would have supported NO INJECTION, but, unlike Jesse Harvey, I would not want to take His name in vain by presuming to speak FOR Him.

  8. Stand Up for America First - so we can serve others... says:

    encouraging the continuation of using drugs — is like helping people commit suicide – how is that ok ??? Gosh people have just gotten stupider by the day — give them solutions so they can get off the chains of bondage from what is holding them down in the gutters of hell …

    and you call yourselves people who love the Lord — did you see Jesus encourage the prostitute to continue to live like a prostitute? Did you see Jesus encourage people who do bad things to continue to do bad things ???

    WOW — embarrassed to know I have other Christian brothers and sisters – who are just outright ignorant – but I am called to love you regardless of your mental state – and pray that God will use your stupid actions for HIS glory – and if it works – its BECAUSE OF HIM!!!

    1. Michael Jay Anthony says:

      thats not happening. harm reduction doesn’t encourage anyone to continue using drugs. it recognizes folks are using drugs, as this is a fact, and starts from there. how do we support folks where they are at, so that they can survive long enough to sober up if thats what their future holds? clean needles, thats how. its saves lives, and more people sober up instead of die.

      1. b0blf says:

        mjay: What a crock! ‘Harm reduction doesn’t encourage anyone to continue using drugs.’ Does it DISCOURAGE drug use?! You’re enabling the victim to continue his addiction.

        Why not give a would-be ‘suicider’ a clean knife? Give an HIV-er condoms for ‘safe’ sex.

        You’re putting band aids on fatal cancer. You’re farting around the peripheral instead going to the heart of the issue.

        These guys need a change of heart . . . . a life turn around that only Jesus can provide. Anything else is a futile stop-gap measure leading nowhere.

  9. Andrew says:

    Christ needs to be at the center. No other Gods in His presence. Anything you put above Him is a false idol.

    1. Michael Jay Anthony says:

      preach the gospel always, use words when necessary. note that jesse did not say needles come before god, the manipulative writer of this article did. it is a lie, they are a deceiver. jesse is a saint.

  10. Ordained says:

    I want to thank Jesse for doing what he can with the hope he can help a another in a world that is turned up side down. You are doing the right thing. In a way you know is the right way. Im with you. Maybe not physically, in tbat place where we feel .
    I wanted so badly to say that. I wave been here for to many year think we can not help. So this young man made his stand. Makes me feel like we still have hope.
    God Bless

  11. oldbill says:

    Matthew 25:36 (NIV) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

  12. Jim Jones says:

    > “Critics insist that they completely avoid the root of the problem – addiction itself – and instead focus on treating the symptoms.”

    What are the critics doing to help? Letting addicts die?

    “US drug overdose deaths rose to record 72,000 last year, data reveals.”

    20 times the deaths of 9/11. Where’s the massive reaction to this? Where’s the $3 trillion spending?

  13. Stand Up for America First - so we can serve others... says:

    Y’all drinking the cool-aid / smokin the pot – injecting the drug —– in the name of Jesus ??? Now that a new LOW … please don’t use HIS name in vain —

    Cant believe i am reading the idiocy from you people… i am sure you have re-written scripture too to satisfy your ‘physical & mental’ human desires .. to fit your narrative — to make you feel like you doing good in the eyes of the Lord – who you don’t even know Him …

    Its you people that give the ‘Christian’ name a bad reputation – cause its about you and no one else…

    1. ET says:

      Each, like you and I, is following their own path. What is, is. Judgement won’t change minds. Vitriol will just inflame and increase hostility. Accept that differences exist. Listen and move on the path you have chosen for yourself. We are all children of the cosmos, formed of the same elements of nature. Be well in peace.

  14. Supporter says:

    The article left out that fact that syringe exchange and safe injection sites are evidence based practice. The evidence overwhelming says that these methods save lives. Who are we to judge anyway.

  15. Sandy Hubert Rasmussen says:

    I appreciate him being a good human, and a kind gesture at that— sometimes addicts just need to know that there is someone there that will sympathize and listen, and sometimes even get their lives turned around— pretty risky business though— I hope God guides him in the right direction, and keeps him safe!

  16. Secretary3rd says:

    Yesterday I was at a church that when the place is full of people there are armed guards in their mist. A few local police and fire department are there in case someone falls ill. If you want to be high then it better be on Jesus or any other way it is detox. The church is a mega church and it respects the person right to be high as long as it does not get in the way of the rest of the church goers. If someone becomes a problem either with voice or actions then they will be set upon by Gods holy women who will treat said person with gentle words if not arm twisting.

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