(This is the first installment of a multi-part series on the drug crisis in Lincoln County.)
With heroin-related deaths and arrests on the increase across the state, Lincoln County’s top law enforcement officials assembled in Damariscotta Dec. 10 to discuss the possibilities of connecting drug addicts to treatment and recovery programs before they enter into the criminal justice system.
The Boothbay Harbor, Waldoboro, and Damariscotta police chiefs and the Lincoln and Sagadahoc county sheriffs generally agreed their communities would benefit from an outreach initiative to addicts similar to the Scarborough Police Department’s Project HOPE, or Heroin-Opiate Prevention Effort.
The meeting was called for by Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, at the behest of constituent Bobby Whear, a former resident of Gloucester, Mass. The Gloucester Police Department pioneered what it has called, “a revolutionary approach to the war on drugs,” which involves helping drug addicts connect to treatment options without the fear of arrest.
Based on the success of the program, Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello founded the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, a nonprofit organization which works with police departments to establish similar outreach programs. The Scarborough Police Department launched Project HOPE in September in partnership with the initiative.
Scarborough police did not think they were ready when they launched the initiative, Johnson said. Since it started in October, however, Project HOPE has placed 78 heroin addicts in long-term treatment and rehabilitation facilities.
Johnson challenged law enforcement to establish a similar program in the same time frame as Scarborough – 73 days. “We can’t afford to wait six months to a year when all the details are hashed out,” Johnson said.
Overdose and arrest rates are not indicative of the true problem with addiction in the community, which is far greater than the statistics, law enforcement officials said. From January 2006 to May 2007, six young adults under 22 years old died from overdoses, Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett said. “I thought it was an epidemic back then,” he said.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has run a jail diversion program for approximately 10 years, which contracts with the Addiction Resource Center, based in Brunswick and Bristol, to provide intensive therapy and recovery coaching to addicts, Brackett said.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups are also offered; however, the individuals connected to resources through jail diversion programs have already been arrested for a crime.
The intent of Project HOPE and similar outreach initiatives is to connect addicts to treatment options before their addiction results in incarceration.
Addiction Resource Center Director Eric Haram presented an overview of the center’s work as a building block for future initiatives in Lincoln County, targeting addicts that are not yet involved with the criminal justice system.
Through intensive therapy, job placement, and help with transportation, the positive outcomes for addicts who go through the Addiction Resource Center’s program are twice the national average, Haram said.
“It’s a small investment for a very big return,” Haram said.
Long before the Dec. 10 meeting, the Boothbay Harbor Police Department has worked to connect addicts in the community to resources and treatment options to aid in their recovery. The initiative was organic, Chief Robert Hasch said – a product of knowing the community and the issues it faced.
In the past year, Boothbay Harbor has seen a dramatic increase in opiate related arrests, Hasch said.
Hasch has worked to not only connect individuals struggling with addiction to treatment resources, but also to connect low-income individuals to the free health care and dental care provided by LincolnHealth.
It is the natural instinct of the department, Hasch said. “If someone comes to us asking for help, we’re going to give them help,” he said. The outreach effort has not stopped the department from pursuing drug trafficking investigations and making arrests, Hasch said, which other law enforcement officials pointed to as a potential source of tension in rolling out a Project HOPE-style initiative in Lincoln County.
Balancing one of the core missions of law enforcement, investigating criminal activity and making arrests, while providing a safe space for addicts to come forward for help without the threat of incarceration, will be difficult, law enforcement officials said.
Transportation to treatment facilities and recovery groups was also identified as a potential stumbling block. Lack of transportation is a major obstacle preventing addicts from connecting with treatment options, Haram said. It is also a service that will be difficult for resource-strapped police departments to provide.
The success of Project HOPE is largely due to its “angels,” recovered addicts or civic-minded individuals who act like a sponsor in a 12-step program, Johnson said. “Angels” provide the motivation, encouragement, and transportation that enables addicts to begin and continue on the pathway to recovery, Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the Legislature has identified approximately $4.8 million to fund several bills that include investment in treatment options, the creation of a new 10-bed detoxification center, a statewide coordinator to connect law enforcement officials to treatment providers, and funding for police departments to launch initiatives such as Project HOPE.
“Our goal is to get it on the governor’s desk in January and be ready to roll in February,” Johnson said. Lincoln County law enforcement officials have already scheduled a follow-up meeting to continue to discuss implementing an outreach program.
Individuals interested in learning more about addiction resources in Lincoln County or who are interested in serving as “angels” are encouraged to contact the Addiction Resource Center at 563-2311 or visit www.midcoasthealth.com/addiction.