Project HOPE Addiction Recovery Launches in Pleasant Point

By Lura Jackson


Communities across America are struggling with addiction to opiates, whether they are prescription-provided or illegally obtained. The problem knows no socially constructed barriers, afflicting the wealthy as readily as the poor and whites as readily as non-whites. It has become such a national epidemic that the president has declared a public health crisis. Here in Downeast Maine, the problem has been well-known to residents for decades, and few remain untouched by the loss of a loved one or friend. At Pleasant Point, the police department has made the decision to adopt Project HOPE, a support and treatment-based approach to individuals struggling with drug addiction.

Modeled after Operation HOPE, which launched in Scarborough in 2015, the main purpose of the project is to place people battling addiction with opiates and heroin into rehabilitation and treatment programs rather than to charge and incarcerate them. The project involves training police officers to abide by a different approach in the field. When officers respond to incidents where opiate or heroin misuse is suspected, they will then provide the individual and their family members with a Project HOPE flyer to advise them of what treatment options are available.

Any individual that comes into the police department seeking help with addiction is welcomed, and any drugs they bring with them are not used for prosecution. Once they declare that they would like assistance, police officers screen them for eligibility for local programs, and they are subsequently enrolled. If no program is available or the person is not eligible for them, alternative support will be provided through the community. The police department already anticipates that most individuals seeking treatment will not have insurance, and so it is working to provide funding for treatment where possible, along with working out reduced payment options with treatment centers.

One of the major components in Project HOPE is the presence of “Angels”, individuals who are assigned to struggling addicts to provide them with guidance and support during the process. According to the Pleasant Point Police Department, it has a roster of volunteer Angels already on standby. Some of them are recovered addicts themselves, some are community-minded individuals interested in offering help to those who are struggling, and others are clinicians that wish to provide assistance beyond medical treatment. 

Treatment vs. Incarceration: A Comparison

The incentives for providing treatment and comfort to an individual experiencing drug addiction rather than incarcerating them are numerous. According to Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, addiction is not so much a desire for a substance as it is a response to adverse childhood experiences. By treating addicted individuals with respect and guiding them to a treatment program that will help them create positive and non-destructive comforting behaviors, programs like Project HOPE go well beyond a punishment-oriented approach that largely serves to inflate the prison population and drive the addict further from functioning in society.

Imprisoning drug addicts has been the approach for decades in the United States, and that truth can be seen in its prison statistics. As a ratio of its population, the United States imprisons the most number of people in the world at any given time. According to the US Department of Justice, half of all of those arrested are imprisoned for drug-related crimes. Of those incarcerated for drugs, one-tenth receive treatment in jail. This translates into a large number of drug users leaving jail with the same addiction that they entered it with, thus repeating the cycle of use, abuse, and arrest. 

Every time a prisoner is housed at a jail in Maine, it costs the public money. According to an independent review by InsideGov, Maine had the 8th highest cost in the nation for its prisoners, with a price tag of $46,404 a year in 2016.

The cost of drug addiction goes beyond imprisonment and treatment. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services released that the total estimated cost of drug abuse in Maine was $1.4 billion in 2010, a 56 percent increase from 2005. Of that figure, the smallest figure, 3.4 percent was due to treatment. The largest cost was that of mortality.

A Humane Response

It doesn’t take statistics from the DHHS to know how drug abuse has impacted the small communities of Eastern Maine. With so many interconnected individuals, the loss of a single person is felt far more widely than within a single family. Nor is it just a few people that are dying: Per a 2016 study, the highest per capita rates of deaths by drug overdoses in the state are in Washington County.

Programs like Project HOPE are working to change that, but they do not exist in a vacuum. Project HOPE is dependent on available treatments and donations of goods and time from community members. With that said, however, it is already clear that the community widely supports the initiative, which officially began on December 1st.

Since it has made the announcement that it would be adopting Project HOPE, the Pleasant Point Police Department has received donations of toiletries, snacks, bedding, and bags from Erin Stevens, Phil Stanley, Paula Cleaves, Sandi Yarmal and Denise Altvater, and more have pledged their support. 

More volunteers and donations are needed to support the program. If you would like to become an Angel, for which you will receive training, you may contact Chief Roger Newell at 214-5931. If you would like to donate funds, materials, or supplies, you may drop them off at the Pleasant Point Police Department or mail them to “Project HOPE”, C/O Chief Roger Newell, Pleasant Point Police Department, PO Box 343, Perry, ME 04667.