Franklin Countys First News

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.

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10 Responses »

  1. Every drug addict starts with something and maybe if more of these people had fought against the new weed issue then maybe there would be less opiate addictions. Just saying.

  2. Very good summary, Ben.

  3. A large part of opiate addiction is directly related to the over prescribed pain killers pushed by doctors and pharmaceutical companies, which in turn makes HUGE amounts of money off this practice. Then once someone tries to get help with their addiction, the same people, doctors and pharmaceutical companies, offer another drug to help with their recovery in turn bringing in more revenue for said providers!!!! This does not help the addict !!! Addicts need to suffer through the withdrawal process in order to be successful !!! It is tough, Im sure, but giving them a crutch will never provide them with the help they really need.

  4. @Candy - please, enlighten us, what does marijuana have to do with opiates? Those are two totally different types of drug.

  5. Because I'm already seeing the ignorance in certain posts, I just wanted to say this:

    Regardless of the origins of a person's addiction problems (which you probably have no clue about), the primary issue is this: what are the resources for getting help?

    You can blame the docs who prescribe, the dealers who sell, or you can be proactive in supporting treatment and making it affordable. Many of these folks have co-occurring issues…addiction and mental illness. You can’t treat one without treating the other, so it’s not as simplistic as “go through withdrawal” and “just get your act together.” How? Where? Get educated....the issue is not as black/white as you may think.

    (A local therapist)

  6. Good job capturing the event, Ben.

    @Scott, I agree with your concerns regarding switching from one drug to the next; it's a sad and vicious cycle. Recovering addicts have the best chance at recovery when the medical assisted treatment is a. stepped down and b. combined with therapy to teach the individual coping skills to manage after they are clean. However, this does not benefit big Pharma and their well-paid lobbyists.

  7. I myself was addicted to cocaine for many years and entered rehab in 1990, I know it's not an opiate , but it was still a tough road. I was taught coping skills, new ways to think and look at situations. I had to change people, places and things to move forward, which led me to a great life and family. I did this without any crutch, but with perseverance and determination. That is the treatment that needs to be pursued for proper healing, not a Suboxone regimen. If I offend anyone, I apologize, this is just my opinion.

  8. Thanks Scott. I too went through a successful treatment in '93~94. The program I went through sounds almost exactly the same as yours. Mine was a 13 month program and in that 13 months I saw 2 people " graduate " and approx. 40~50 drop out for whatever reasons. I was the third.
    The only thing I could add would be that if someone doesn't want to get clean they won't.

  9. You will not fix this problem... It is a worldwide epidemic. You can however help your communities by eliminating section 8 housing. This type of housing in your community does not improve your town. It is the preferred housing of drug addicts nationwide.

  10. @Scott That sounds like a good program. We don't see a lot of programs that understand the need for the coping skills piece. What we unfortunately see is another pill being pushed without a plan for stepping down. Regardless of whether Suboxone/Methadone is used or not the therapy is really the key piece...otherwise there is no change.