Battle against statewide drug abuse

In recent years, Maine drug use has skyrocketed. Drug addiction is an issue that has grown over the past few years and has recently reached a peak in Maine, with drug related deaths at an all time high of 208 people in 2014. As of June 30, 63 deaths by heroin overdose have been reported. Over the summer, 14 heroin overdoses were treated in Portland in a 24-hour
period, resulting in
two deaths. These
startling statistics
have reinvigorated
the fight against
drug abuse. In the
coming week, The
Mayors Coalition,
a group of mayors
from eight Maine
communities, is
presenting a project
to the Maine De
partment of Health
a Human Service.
The project will help
fight the statewide
drug addiction epi
demic. Last year, the
Coalition represented 12 communities. This past year, four communities, including Waterville, did not choose to renew their membership due to overlap of interests in groups that the city already funds such as Service Center Coalition. The state of Maine has struggled to find focus: is there enough money for treatment if law enforcement needs to be ramped up?

Governor LePage of Maine has wrestled with this question. Last summer he threatened to bring in the Maine National Guard to help patrol for drug traffickers if the police force didn’t receive more funding—funding that was being used to pay for government-funded treatment and rehab centers. He justified this statement by citing the fact that less than 30 percent of people involved with government treatment programs complete the program successfully, even claiming that the statistic may be lower. Despite this statement, LePage has been unable to pass any bills that would increase punishments for drug offenders, even though he states this is the first step to curing the heroin epidemic. This stalemate has inspired other groups to initiate change from other angles, such as treatment, therapy and providing housing and other needs.

The Coalition’s program is based off of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, started in Seattle. The main goal is to send addicts and offenders to rehab instead of jail, as rehab is not always available to addicts who don’t have health insurance. The program would also utilize resources that are already available in the communities, such as the Service Center Coalition and the Maine Municipal Association.

The $2 million dollar project hopes to organize eight offices located in each of the cities that are part of the Coalition. These offices will offer treatment and counseling to addicts seeking recovery. Each location would receive $250,000 in funding and have a full-time case manager that would organize the different programs that the location offered. The funding would also be used to supply clothing, housing and other needs of people in treatment. These sites would help addicts get health insurance, emergency housing and other necessities. Portland Mayor Michael Brennan has called for an increase in MaineCare, Maine’s Medicare program, to help rehab become accessible to those who need it, yet the Department of Health and Human Services has been working to diminish the number of people relying on MaineCare. The program also calls for an increase in limiting legal drug supplies and law enforcement for drug related crime, in hopes to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place. In addition, offenders of minor drug-related crimes would be directed towards treatment and counseling instead of jail. These aspirations have been helped by the current Governor’s administration lessening the amount of legal painkillers prescribed by 45 percent, a major victory in fighting heroin addiction, as many heroin addicts became a heroin user through legal painkiller prescriptions.

This need and lack of support has caused an increase in privately run sober living homes that offer care to addicts. These homes have sprung up in Portland and other areas of Maine in the recent past. The Service Center Coalition hopes to use this network of rehabs and treatment centers in conjunction with the Coalition’s sites. The homes are embedded into neighborhoods, situated near each other. Though these homes are entirely sober and more than 90% of the Portland home residents stay sober while living there, neighbors of the home worry that the presence of a sober living community, a sober living office and treatment centers would decrease the quality of neighborhood. However, privately run organization ensures that the people involved with treatment will not affect the neighborhood negatively.

After complaints increased about sanitation in Portland parks, the city stepped up patrols in parks and local spaces. A step that was taken towards victory over drug addiction in Maine was the installment of needles receptacles in parks and public areas. These boxes would help keep needles off of public areas, improving the parks aesthetically and decreasing the re-use of needles for public safety.

The need for these programs exists: overdoses and deaths caused by heroin and prescription pills have steadily increased countrywide and across Maine over the years. The Maine Office of Substance Abuse reported that the number of people seeking some form of drug rehab has tripled from 1,115 individuals in 2010 to 3,463 individuals in 2014. Programs such as the one the Mayor’s Coalition is proposing will offer the resources that addicts in the cities of Maine need, while also increasing the consequences for supplying these drugs. If the state of Maine can bring the two sides of this fight together, the possibility to end the heroin epidemic is possible. There are multiple resources and groups that are working toward successful rehabilitation and if these programs and groups are enabled and aided by the state, the end of the war on drugs in Maine is in sight.

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