Hardest-Hit County Would Benefit from Opioid Pilot Project

Over the past year, we have heard the increasingly disturbing news about overdose deaths in Maine: it’s bad and getting worse. In 2016, more than one person a day, on average, died from an opioid overdose. Usually the drug of choice is heroin, sometimes tainted, unbeknownst to the user, with fentanyl, a prescription drug that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. The number of deaths is so high, the state’s Medical Examiner’s Office recently asked for increased funding to deal with the backlog of drug-related autopsies.

Statistics are one thing. It’s quite another when you consider every one of these deaths represents a life lost: someone’s mother, father, child or friend. The pain and grief that accompanies these tragedies cannot be quantified.   

Maine’s opioid epidemic is nothing short of a disaster, and Washington County is ground zero.    Between 2012-2014, Washington County had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the state with 19.7 per 100,000 people, a rate significantly higher than the statewide average. We also had the second-highest rate of drug affected babies, which was nearly double the statewide average.

Unfortunately, there is no quick, easy fix to this problem. But we in the Legislature can take meaningful steps to help break the cycle of opioid addiction. That is why I am the sponsor of a bill to address the crisis in Washington County through an all-inclusive, treatment-based approach that would serve as a pilot program for the rest of the state.

LD 812, “Resolve, To Establish a Pilot Project to Save Lives and Support People with Substance Use Disorder in Washington County,” is currently being considered by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. It would implement an opioid treatment project in Washington County to assist those seeking treatment and eliminate barriers to addicts who don’t have insurance. 

Among other things, this bill would:

•Train non-health care entities such as law enforcement and social service agencies that are on the front lines of the crisis, serving as points of entry to treatment and recovery

•Provide training and referral systems to local emergency departments

•Add eight additional detox beds

•Work with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) prescribers to pair them with counselors

•Provide MAT to people without insurance

•Add the option for partial hospitalization for those without insurance

•Add low or no-cost prescriptions for those without insurance

•Eliminate barriers such as child care and transportation during treatment and recovery

•Provide treatment and recovery support in county/local jails

From care to recovery, Washington County region lacks the necessary infrastructure to help those in crisis when they seek treatment for their addiction, yet this region is suffering the most.

We need to face this crisis head-on, which is why I’ve sponsored this important legislation. We need a holistic approach, which is what LD 812 offers. It will allow us to implement this plan where action is most needed, but this pilot project will also help determine which policies can be most effective for the rest of the state.

On another note, there was encouraging news this month regarding the Downeast Correctional Facility. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously against a measure that would have eliminated funding for the facility in the next two-year budget. Closing it would have dealt a devastating blow to the region, not only to those who are employed there but also to the non-profits that benefit from tens of thousands of hours of community service, the area businesses that utilize the prison’s work-release program to cover seasonal staffing demands and the prisoners, themselves, who learn new skills and make connections while serving their time at DCF.

The measure still faces additional votes in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, but the expectation is that committee will vote to keep the facility open, as well.