LEAAP & the Systemic Approach Maine Needs to Opiate Addiction

Elected leaders and police officials in Portland have taken a wonderfully bold step in unveiling Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program (LEAAP). It’s based on a model from Seattle, Washington and comes fairly recently on the heels of a similar initiative from Gloucester Massachusetts.

This may be the biggest shift we’ve ever seen in law enforcement. Police officers advocating for treatment and helping people in active addiction connect with services is a common sense and effective approach. There’s only one huge problem:

Maine is severely lacking in both the availability and funding of addiction services.

In the absence of a systemic approach, we will collectively fail to scratch the surface of opiate addiction in Maine. Removing the biggest obstacles to treatment and increasing the availability of the most critical of services must become our highest priorities.

There are options and there are deal breakers:

Two deal breakers:

– Maine simply must increase the availability of medical detox programs. These are short term and designed primarily to ensure (to the greatest degree possible) that medical emergencies and death do not occur during withdrawals. Minimally these programs would be seven days. It would be far safer for these to be fourteen and optimally they would be thirty days.

In the absence of detox programs, we’re burdening Emergency Rooms throughout Maine, triaging, and providing essentially the absolute minimum in life or death measures. This approach lends itself both to higher overdose rates and recurring ER visits.

– Preventing a person from receiving professional assistance in overcoming addiction has been consistently and conclusively proven NOT to be cost effective. At an absolute minimum, folks seeking addiction recovery should be granted sufficient Maine Care (supplemented Medicaid coverage) to ensure every opportunity to attain sobriety and recovery.

In the absence of the most minimal health care coverage, the efforts of great leaders like the ones in Portland will exhaust funding almost overnight.

Options (only a few of many):

– Maine is unlikely to fund long term (4-6 month) residential addiction rehabilitation programs (rehab). We’ve been steadily declining in availability for years now while the need increases.

– Assuming this trend continues, the most common sense approach would be to increase the availability of 30 day residential programs like Aroostook Mental Health Center’s excellent program in Limestone.

– Following up a 30 day program with more Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) allows a person whose most dire medical needs have been met to utilize structure and receive education and support for continued sobriety and the development of long term recovery.

– Removing obstacles to continued care (Outpatient counseling, medication monitoring, case management services) will increase success rates and reduce recidivism.

– The most important common sense measure we can implement is to utilize the wisdom of Mainers who themselves have achieved long term recovery. Connecting with highly effective grassroots organizations like the Bangor Area Recovery Network costs Maine nothing and will undoubtedly serve us all very well. Let’s stop excluding the REAL experts.

We need to establish what our bare bones approach will be. Determining our level of commitment is as simple as asking, “What is the very least we’re willing to consistently do for our brothers and sisters throughout this great state?”

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.