OUI arrest: and what happened to Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse?

Joan Smyrski currently serves as  Associate Director of Substance Abuse Services for DHHS Maine. She was arrested Wednesday for Operating Under the Influence (OUI). It seems likely that she may be asked to resign from her post given the nature of her offense.

Knowing Ms. Smryski by reputation only, my first thought is to be concerned. I know folks enjoy a good scandal. I like reducing stigma and I know to be concerned when folks behave in a way that is out of character. That’s a huge red flag. It also brings to mind my favorite Facebook meme:

Thou shalt not judge for thou has f@cked up too.

Before anyone goes calling for her head, can we please take a look around the Office of Substance Abuse? I’ve been waiting for several months for someone in the media to report that early last spring, while no one was looking, our governor largely dismantled the Office of Substance Abuse…

In the middle of a heroin epidemic.

Additionally, Ms. Smyrski serves as Assistant Director of DHHS Licensing and Regulatory Services. This is the state office responsible for issuing all professional licenses that are regulated by the state. That office has been chronically understaffed for many years and the length of time it takes to get new professionals into the field has risen to a cumbersome level.

That includes substance abuse counselors and mental health therapists.

In the middle of a heroin epidemic.

Here’s my fear: Addiction became a sexy topic early in 2016. Politicians and anyone else who loves to be in front of a camera pledged to take the reins and evoke change. Here’s the reality:

The numbers for 2016 will be worse than last year’s record breaking losses.

Who wants to step up when things are getting worse?

That’s what real leaders do. That’s what the Bangor Area Recovery Network and the Portland Recovery Community Center are doing. They’re the grass roots, bake sale fundraising, get things done come hell or high water leaders who are not deterred by things getting worse.

We have only begun to take back our communities. Dig deeper. Learn more. Reduce stigma. Demand change.

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.