What started last fall as a mere idea to address addiction in Lincoln County became a reality this month – all thanks to a regular person just like you who decided that our communities need to take action.
Bobby Whear, a constituent in Damariscotta Mills, called me in November. He’d been learning about successful programs in Scarborough and in Gloucester, Mass., that partnered law enforcement with treatment and recovery specialists to get people off the cycle of addiction and incarceration and into recovery.
He asked me: why can’t we do something like that here in Lincoln County?
Attempting to answer that question, I arranged a meeting in December with our police chiefs, sheriff, LincolnHealth, and Eric Haram, of Mid Coast Hospital’s Addiction Resource Center. They agreed with Bobby that we needed to work together to combat addiction. The idea grew.
Scarborough Police Officer John Gill and Portland Recovery Community Center’s Stephen Cotreau helped us understand what they were doing, and the potential to take advantage of our local treatment options. The idea kept gaining steam until more than 50 people signed on to help make this a reality in our community.
At that point, Bobby’s little idea stopped being a theoretical. It became a plan.
We agreed to form a smaller steering committee to work out the logistics of how our law enforcement and clinical response to addiction would work in Lincoln County.
For six months, stakeholders came together and shared, and listened, and learned. They agreed on the nature of the problem, the goals for a collaborative community response, and how each could do their part. They recognized that what works in Scarborough or in Gloucester may not work in Lincoln County. We couldn’t turn to a cookie-cutter approach. We needed something homegrown.
That’s what we got this month, with the launch of the Lincoln County Recovery Collaborative – an agreement signed by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, four local police departments, LincolnHealth, and Mid Coast Hospital, including the Addiction Resource Center. All of these partners have agreed to work together to treat addiction as a health problem, and to do so as much as possible right here, in our own communities.
Our collaborative is the first county-wide partnership in the state, recognizing the limitations of our individual, small, and rural communities, and leveraging the resources and advantages available if we work together.
Law enforcement will continue to be tough on drug traffickers. But they’ll also help people using drugs overcome their addiction. Anyone who wants to get better can go to a participating department and be connected with support and recovery services.
Those services will be provided by our health partners. Mid Coast Hospital’s Addiction Resource Center has committed to an aggressive schedule with the goal of treating new patients diverted by police as quickly as possible, no more than five days after first contact.
LincolnHealth will seek ways to find alternatives to prescription opioid painkillers, which can be habit-forming and lead to addiction. They will also work with the Addiction Resource Center to transition people to support in recovery by primary care doctors and therapists, and to seek assistance for the cost of care wherever possible.
But the collaborative’s success will require more than a commitment by police and health providers. There is a role to be played by any individual or organization interested in addressing the drug crisis. The Central Lincoln County YMCA is already committed to helping recruit volunteers and host training for those volunteers. There are other conversations happening about other ways for the community to get involved.
We’ve only just begun, but already a number of people now in recovery have come forward, seen the value in what we are doing, and wanted to give back by being a part of it. Their participation tells me that we are on the right track to do something meaningful for people suffering from addiction.
We are fortunate to have Boothbay Harbor Police Chief Bob Hasch on board. His proactive work in his own community is a model for the other local departments that have signed onto this effort.
I cannot forget Chief Hasch’s stories about people coming in to thank him after he and his officers put them on the path to recovery. But I also cannot forget his heartache. He worked hard to convince a good person who was suffering to seek the help they needed, only to see that individual walk away, believing they could manage their addiction alone. It was harrowing to hear the chief describe the day he learned that person had lost their struggle and, ultimately, their life.
We know that not all stories end well. But this collaborative will help more stories reach a happy ending. The ones that do, the lives saved, will make what we are doing worthwhile.
(Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, represents all of Lincoln County except Dresden, plus Washington and Windsor.)