I was thirteen the first time I found someone I love unconscious, overdosed on the floor. I have since realized that no one is immune to addiction—anyone can lose their life. Every one of the 100,000 fatal overdoses in the United States last year was someone’s mother, father, sister, brother or child. Growing up, the opioid epidemic was a crushing reality for me. The pain and loss of addiction is a core piece of my identity—and I still count myself as “one of the lucky ones.”
Opioid reform is not a question of yes or no; it’s a matter of life or death.
Addiction is a sickness that we must treat with empathy instead of criminalization, and it is a sickness we must treat now. Despite recent efforts, 2020 and 2021 were the deadliest years yet in Maine’s opioid crisis, with over 500 deaths in 2020 and 4,000 reported overdoses in the first six months of 2021. These deaths were preventable. Our state government must invest further in addiction therapy and ensure that everyone can access treatment. Restructuring and investing in the fight against opioids means saving the lives of children, friends and family.
I intend to spend my life fighting the opioid epidemic. After much thought, I decided to run for office in 2022 for several reasons. First, Ralph Tucker, the incumbent representative, reached his term limit this year. Second, the uncontested election did not address the opioid crisis. Third, and most importantly, I figured that my campaign could do good by shifting issues and raising awareness, regardless of the outcome of the election. This is especially true at Bowdoin, where many students are less familiar with the opioid epidemic.
Since announcing my campaign, I have gotten a lot of questions about my age. As a college student, I am young for this position. If elected, I would be one of the youngest representatives to serve in this seat—next to Tom Davidson, who ran during his senior year at Bowdoin. However, I do not think this means I am unqualified.
On the contrary, twenty years around addiction familiarized me with the opioid epidemic, motivating me to pass reform. While I can learn to navigate Congress, there is no substitute for my lived experience. Unfortunately, the perspective I hold is underrepresented in our current political moment. We are at the worst point in Maine’s opioid crisis and our state government must take immediate and comprehensive action based on the voices and experiences of impacted people.
Beyond this crisis, I am using my platform to promote Housing First: a humane and effective long-term homelessness model that assumes housing is a human right and provides all participants with secure shelter. This model puts an immediate end to homelessness: enabling people to move their focus away from finding a home, permitting them to focus on employment, sobriety and budgeting.
Maine’s current housing model works the other way around. It forces participants to “earn” a home by achieving employment, sobriety and budgeting skills. This model works backwards on its most fundamental level. A person needs stable housing before focusing on these goals. That is why, long-term, this current model fails 70 percent of participants with mental health conditions. In comparison, Housing First has an 80 percent success rate for those with mental health conditions and a 98 percent success rate overall. It’s also $23,000-$31,000 cheaper per participant than our current model.
Outside of my campaign, I’m also forming a nonprofit to promote Housing First legislation in Maine. I chose to create a nonprofit—rather than join one—because my goals differed from those of existing nonprofits. Existing housing nonprofits, like the Tedford Shelter, focus on ground-level efforts to provide shelter. My goal is to build support for a Maine citizens’ ballot initiative in several years. My nonprofit will aim to promote Housing First legislation and inform people about state housing and housing reform.
When I tell people about this plan, I get questions about where I am from or why Maine. I get it. I would be skeptical too. Although I went to high school out of state, I am a resident with generational ties to Maine ever since my grandparents immigrated here. More importantly, “my” issues are Maine issues. My story is familiar to that of too many Mainers, which is why I am so dedicated to fighting the opioid crisis that disproportionately impacts Maine.
I am running for Maine District 100 Representative because we are at a critical point in politics. Not only are we running out of Narcan, but we are running out of space in treatment centers. This is the worst point in the opioid epidemic to date. Further, homelessness—which is almost thirteen times more common in Maine than in the average U.S. state—systemically blocks vulnerable people from getting help. Homelessness and opioids are long-time issues in Maine that COVID has violently accelerated. I hope to represent the families struggling with addiction and the thousands of Mainers facing housing insecurity. I hope to represent young and new Mainers. I hope to pass the Housing First policy and reform the opioid epidemic. Regardless of the election outcome, I am excited to introduce people to a new type of housing reform and fight for the people I have watched suffer.
Andrew Kaleigh is a member of the Class of 2024.