Maine Opiate Task Force Report and our lack of action

“How do we reinforce how important it is that action happen?”

The question above was raised by State Representative Rep. Anne Beebe-Center of Rockland. She was one of the members of an appointed task force charged with exploring solutions to Maine’s opiate epidemic. It’s a great question, raised by a leader from a community known to be struggling even more than most with addiction.

At this point, anyone who doesn’t see the need for immediate action has their head in the sand. Addiction impacts every single one of us, directly or indirectly. I think the more pertinent question is, “How do we make people care?”

The closest I can come is to invite folks into the trenches with those fighting addiction and empowering the person seeking recovery. Please come visit places where recovery is fostered, like the Bangor Area Recovery Network.

I continue to say that our state will not make significant progress until we seek guidance from the real experts in addiction recovery – men and women who themselves have achieved long term recovery.

I just read Maine’s recently released Opiate Task Force’s Report. As Chris Cousins astutely reports, it echoes a lot of the same recommendations that last year’s task force offered. I’m trying not to have an aneurism as I read that the task force recommends development of other task forces.

When do we stop having meetings about having meetings about having @#!%#@ meetings?

See, while folks in Augusta and Washington continue to wring their hands, people continue to die. That’s the most important issue. Before we talk about law enforcement or treatment or needed services and funding, we should be talking about HOW TO HELP PEOPLE NOT DIE.

So… can we be pragmatic?

  • Narcan: It saves lives. It has no other use other than to bring someone back from overdose. It cannot be abused. It needs to be free and widely available, minimally to all law enforcement, all EMTs and all families who request it, given that folks who would be using it are doing so to help save a life (a.k.a. someone’s child, partner, sibling, grandparent).
  • Medical Detox: If you’re going through withdrawal in our state, you are almost assuredly doing it without adequate medical attention. This is a glaring systemic deficit that’s been with us for many, many years. We need to develop and fund medical detox centers. It saves lives. Period.
  • Expand Medicaid without political interference. That means more folks get seen medically, and fewer people get shuffled out of Emergency Rooms at high risk of overdose. It also means folks can be referred on to treatment and have greater opportunities to break free of addiction.

These are the three most important things we can do systemically. What each of us can do individually is become involved in local community/grassroots efforts that address the epidemic on a local level. Please, go to your churches, your civic organizations, your schools and your workplace and then, instead of holding a bunch of meetings, ask someone who identifies as being in long term recovery, “What has been proven to work?”

They’ll share their experience, strength, and hope. They’ll likely point you toward the benefits of recovery coaching, community based recovery centers, bringing treatment and support into jails and prisons, developing housing and employment opportunities that reduce relapse and recidivism.

It is way past time to take action. It is way past time to acknowledge that this is not our first nor only epidemic. It is time to acknowledge that all of us are affected and all of us have a responsibility to confront one of our state’s greatest social/medical/economic/emotional/spiritual problems.

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.