Community forum discusses opiate addiction crisis
JAY - Educators, law enforcement, medical professionals and concerned community members gathered at two local-area schools Monday afternoon, for a pair of forums focused on the opiate addiction crisis and possible ways to curtail it.
Hosted by the Healthy Community Coalition and the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Greater Franklin County, the forums at Spruce Mountain Middle School and Mt. Abram High School represented the 29th and 30th of their kind held in the state since the release of the the Maine Opiate Collaborative Task Force's suggestions to help stem a sharp increase in drug-related deaths and a rise in drug related crimes. The task force, consisting of groups of 30 professionals organizing around the concepts of law enforcement, treatment or prevention and harm reduction. That task force released its recommendations in May 2016.
At Spruce Mountain Middle School, a local-area man named Mike provided an introduction with his personal history with drugs. A recovering addict, Mike detailed his struggles with heroin and methadone in Brooklyn, N.Y. throughout the '70s and '80s. He said that he would stay clean for a year or a year and a half, then become obsessed with getting high.
"It was a cycle," he said. "Drugs were your friend. It was a very decadent feeling."
In 1986, Mike was still on methadone but was working and in a relationship and began to consider moving to a different state, saying that he "knew too many people" in New York City. He met someone from Greene, Maine, and became interested in the state. He received his last few doses of methadone from his counselor in New York and traveled to Maine, where he had purchased a piece of property with no house. He had to kick his methadone habit in a tent, Mike said wryly. Twenty-seven years later, he is still clean.
Others at the forum had their own personal stories about the ravages of the opiate abuse epidemic. There were several parents with children either using drugs or in the process of grappling with their addictions. They spoke of the many barriers facing addicts in western Maine: the difficulty in finding treatment options without insurance, getting transportation to and from clinics and specialists and attempting to juggle their recovery with full-time jobs.
The law enforcement component of the task force suggested improved training toward substance abuse, making an effort to identify traffickers and locations linked to concentrations of fatal overdoses and allowing for enhanced penalties if a drug supplier could be linked as a "substantial contributing factor" in a death. The task force also recommended the creation of pre-charge diversion programs that would allow law enforcement to refer addicted individuals to treatment and recovery options, as well as expanding the capacity of special courts.
The treatment task force focused on the availability of treatment options, particularly the use of Medication Assisted Treatment, such as methadone programs. They called for the publicly-funded treatment programs to be inventoried and improved. Several people attending Monday's forum in Jay said that methadone or Suboxone programs needed to be linked to counseling, halfway houses and other treatment options, rather than simply switching an illegal drug for a legal one.
Both those in attendance and the task force spoke for a need to reduce the stigma for addicts seeking help. Local law enforcement officers in attendance noted that thus far they had no takers for Operation HOPE, a program designed to allow police to refer addicts to counseling services. Suggestions to reduce the stigma and improve awareness in local treatment options included increased education within the schools and creating outreach centers.
The treatment task force also addressed the over-prescribing of painkillers; new rules that address how much medication is provided to patients will be rolling out over the next year. The prevention and harm reduction task force also recommended increasing and improving the use of the Maine's Prescription Monitoring Program.
New models are also being explored throughout the state. Mike and Sen. Tom Saviello discussed the Oxford House system, in which a group of recovering addicts live together in a drug-free house, paying the rent and attending group meetings.