Will Bangor have the courage to meet this crisis head on?

Today’s blog is a guest appearance from my very talented friend Karen Foley. She is a fierce advocate and all around amazing woman who is connected to seemingly everyone in greater Bangor:

The world is scary, more so lately than ever it seems. We want assurances that we and those we will love will be okay. So we try to apply logic to illogical situations. The woman raped shouldn’t have walked back to her dorm alone. The man shot shouldn’t have been in that neighborhood where he would be mistaken for someone he wasn’t. The woman with severe depression just needs to pull herself up by her bootstraps and go out more. That addict must have had a bad home life; it’s clearly his parents fault. There has to be blame. There has to be a reason so that I know how to keep myself and my loved ones safe. We want to divide the world into us and them for our own protection.

The truth is, we are all them, we are all “those people.” You can either be frightened by that or comforted by it, but either way, we are all in this mess together.

If you are old enough to remember the 1980s you are old enough to remember the fear surrounding the AIDS crisis. People were suddenly dying from a disease we didn’t yet understand. A large majority of them were gay men. Instead of rallying around those who were ill, instead of coming together as a human family and trying to be part of the solution, what did most people do? They reacted out of fear. Gay men, already victims of unspeakable discrimination, became even greater targets for hatred. It wasn’t until the disease became more public, and eventually more and more people knew someone who had fallen victim, that people began to react with empathy rather than judgement, that they began to be part of the solution.

Victim blaming is the cause of many of the current arguments involving the Opioid Crisis in Maine. Unfortunately, many people continue to believe that people chose a life of addiction, that people should just take personal responsibility, that treatment centers are a great idea but not in our city. The effects of this crisis, and how this city chooses to respond to it, will be felt by every single one of us eventually.  Only when people realize that they already know someone fighting this addiction, that they already love someone affected, only then, will public opinion change and public support for treatment centers become as common place as public support for treatment of all the other illnesses we face in this community.

Who do you think the people coming to Bangor seeking treatment for addiction are? These are not people traveling from other states and countries! No, the people seeking treatment are from Bangor, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Lubec and Presque Isle. They are Mainers. They are coming to Bangor the same way they have their entire lives; to go the doctor, to go to the dentist, to go to school or to go the mall at Christmas.

You cannot expect to develop a thriving city that is the service center for Northern Maine and not expect to have some of the same challenges that larger cities have. You can’t build a center for excellent health care and then decide that you only want to treat certain types of sick people. This is a healthcare crisis, and yes, Bangor will most likely see a larger portion of that because we are the healthcare center for the northern half of the state.

Regional treatment centers are a great idea, and will absolutely be necessary if we have a chance at winning this battle. I want affordable accessible healthcare available to all Mainers, all over the state, whether they are suffering from heart disease, or cancer, or addiction. Yes, let’s work on that. But in the meantime, if we have the capacity to serve, aren’t we morally obligated to do so? Do we ask cancer patients to wait for treatment while we build care facilities closer to their homes knowing full well they will die in the meantime?

This is a complicated problem that will require multi-faceted solutions, both long and short term. However, right now, this city is being asked to allow a local clinic to expand the number of patients it can serve in order to accommodate the large waiting lists of people in this area looking to receive treatment for Substance Abuse Disorders. This should be easy. These are people who already live here, who are asking for help. Regardless of your views on which treatments will work or won’t work, or where this treatment should happen, we have the capacity right now, to help people who have asked for it. Choosing to expand this treatment in our area may not be the popular choice but it’s the right choice. These are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and friends and neighbors. We know without a doubt many of them are likely to die without treatment.

We are all in this together. We are all “those people.”

Karen Foley has lived, volunteered, raised a family, gone to college, and worked for local non-profits in the Bangor Community for almost 30 years. For four years you knew her as the voice behind the Bangor Daily News Blog “Postcards from a Work in Progress” where she spouted off weekly about life, family, feminism, and politics. She occasionally co-wrote with Jim LaPierre and thanks him for this platform, as she had a lot to get off her chest!

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.