Law Will Help Drug Addicts in Rural Maine Rebuild Their Lives

By Rep. Joyce Maker

There is not one corner of Maine that has been unaffected by the opiate crisis. The rising flood of heroin and other drugs across our border has led to spikes in overdoses, drug-affected newborns, arrests and broken lives from Kittery to Fort Kent and Lubec to Bridgton. It’s not just the addicts and their families who feel the pain. It’s a problem that affects all of us, whether it’s an increase in drug-related crimes or higher health care costs to treat addicts.

As a state legislator, I am committed to providing assistance to those who find themselves caught in the cycle of drug dependency. During the 127 Legislature, I was proud to sponsor a bill that will help rural Mainers rebuild lives that have been shattered by drug use.

Before the Legislature adjourned, we took several significant steps to address the crisis. We increased the number of agents who will soon join the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA) and increased funding for drug treatment and education that is designed to prevent drug abuse before it begins.

Treating addiction is as complicated as the addiction, itself. What works for one person may be ineffective for another. 

What we have seen tremendous success with in Maine, however, is peer centers. These are facilities that help addicts prevent relapses by providing on-site mentors who are also former addicts. These peers who offer their services have common experiences and provide them with a unique capacity to help their fellow addicts, based on a shared affiliation and a deep understanding. 

The problem is that most of these peer centers are located in large population centers such as Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor. While addicts in rural areas such as Washington and Aroostook Counties may initially go to the cities for drug treatment, they have few resources available for follow-up treatment. What happens, for example, when one of them is having a bad day and on the verge of relapsing and the closest peer center is three hours away? Having one of these facilities within reasonably close proximity can make all the difference.

That is why this past legislative session I was proud to sponsor LD 1496, “An Act to Support Maine People in Recovery.” This piece of legislation became part of a larger budget bill that was signed into law shortly before the Legislature adjourned in late April. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to create three new peer centers, two during the current fiscal year and one in the following.  Two of them, according to the law, must be located in underserved areas that are outside of Maine’s largest cities.

I once served on the Drug/Alcohol Committee of my local school board, and had the opportunity to speak with addicts who had returned to Washington County after getting treatment elsewhere. One of their most common complaints was, and still is, a lack of local resources when they came back home. 

We cannot write these people off and conclude there’s no hope for them. In 2014, 40 percent of those arrested for drugs were under the age of 30. These are young people who are in need of assistance, and it needs to be available to those who make the choice to end the cycle of dependency.

While this legislation will not, in and of itself, solve Maine’s drug problem, I believe it is a significant step in the right direction. It helps ensure that Maine’s rural population is not overlooked in the effort to help those who are struggling, against difficult odds, to rebuild their lives and become productive members of the community.

 

Representative Joyce Maker (R-Calais) serves on the Maine Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. She is serving her third time in the Maine House of Representatives.