Before his death earlier this year, Jesse Harvey was instrumental in advancing harm reduction practices like recovery houses, safe injection sites and medication-assisted treatment. Credit: Courtesy Kari Morissette

All of us know someone who experienced or is experiencing a substance use disorder. Being an ally for those in or seeking recovery is an honorable and pragmatic way to support both your local community and people worldwide. Substance use disorder affects us all; it is only a matter of how directly.

The first time I experienced being part of a community response to a disease was more than 25 years ago when my family participated in Relay for Life. For a weekend each year, we had a sense that we were doing something important to fight against cancer and support the search for a cure. I’m proud to have participated in it and glad for the lessons it instilled within my children.

Living with cancer is not controversial. Living with a substance use disorder is. What I have modelled for my children is that the only time we look down on another person is when we’re helping to lift them up. Substance use disorder is a brain disease. Those who suffer from it are no more or less deserving of support.

My friend Jesse Harvey was an advocate for both substance use disorder recovery and for people who use drugs. He had powerful ways of approaching issues and voiced strong sentiments like, “People who use drugs do not deserve to die.” I concur, yet I want to take it a step further and say that people who use drugs deserve to live. Further, they deserve to have accessible options of harm reduction. Medication-assisted treatment, pathways to abstinence and community support.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it remains a common myth in our culture that anyone who really needs help can get it. The scarcity of detox facilities, rehabilitation centers and community recovery centers in Maine strongly attests to this. We are routinely sending Maine’s children out of state for needed services, and too often we are sending them away without treatment at all.

To be an ally is to embrace the belief that everyone deserves opportunities to become free of disease and to act upon it. The ways to become involved in this process are vast. The most recent and wonderful development toward this end is Maine’s chapter of the Recovery Advocacy Project. Advocacy at the municipal and state levels based on what is best for Maine’s people is a powerful, common-sense solution.

By educating ourselves about substance use disorder, we will not only become stakeholders, but also will identify opportunities that benefit us all. To be an ally of substance use disorder recovery is congruent with allyship to our LGBTQ family as members of that family are disproportionately affected by substance use disorder. Our allyship intersects with supporting survivors of trauma, especially survivors of childhood sexual abuse and survivors of sex trafficking.

I get to be an ally in my professional work, but what could easily be overlooked is my hiring bias in favor of people in recovery from substance use disorder. My experience is that no one will work harder for you or be more loyal than a person you make this type of investment in. It’s pure mythology that people with substance use disorder have poor work ethics. In my experience, they are the hardest working of us all.

I get to be an ally as a landlord. I know that housing options tend to be very limited for people in recovery. I also know they tend to make excellent tenants, especially as personal responsibility and accountability are highly valued in recovery.

I get to be an ally as a college instructor. I get to teach people in recovery who are seeking to give back professionally. I also get to support the student who fell through the cracks and is showing signs of developing or living with a substance use disorder.

I get to be an ally as someone who volunteers with the Bangor Area Recovery Network and the Health Equity Alliance. Most of all, I get to have friendships and working relationships with the most resilient, courageous and genuine people. I get to learn from people in recovery from substance use disorder. To spend time with folks who are transforming their lives has enriched my life endlessly. Supporting local recovery has resulted in spiritual growth and a strong sense of belonging to a community that welcomes me.

Jim LaPierre, a licensed social worker, is a recovery and LGBTQ ally, trauma therapist, and the director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer. He invites you to connect with him at