Originally published in Castine Patriot, June 8, 2017 and Island Ad-Vantages, June 8, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, June 8, 2017
Panel speaks out on addressing local opiate abuse
From left, Tony Bray, Opiate-Free Island Partnership; Denise Black of Healthy Acadia; Charlie Osborn, OFIP; Todd West, Deer Isle-Stonington High School principal; Dr. Richard Zelnick, Island Health and Wellness.
by Anne Berleant
Experts from the fields of medicine, social work, education and recovery spoke to more than 100 people at a panel discussion on local substance abuse, specifically opiates, last month at the Stonington Opera House.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines drug addiction as “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.”
While the event was aimed at the Island communities, the opiate crisis is Peninsula-wide and nationwide.
“We have a major heroin/opiate problem on our island…[but] it is not unique to our island,” said Roger Bergen, co-chairman of the Opiate-Free Island Project.
In 2016, drug overdose deaths in Maine climbed 40 percent from 2015, to 378, mostly from opiates. In response, the Legislature and Governor Paul LePage approved a $3.7 million bill in January 2016 to fund additional law enforcement and treatment around drugs, and more is sought this legislative session.
Locally, doctors, mental health workers, government agencies, and communities are working to address the issue of substance abuse disorder in their own front yards.
Speaking out on opiate addiction
Sharing knowledge and experience, and the social and medical issues surrounding the issue, seven individuals each highlighted the concerns, depth and struggles behind addressing addiction, recovery, and the role of the community in stemming the increase in substance abuse disorders.
Daryl B., in recovery
“Everyone stops using sooner or later: They either get help or they die.”
Sober for 4 years: “I’m an addict, a felon, a father, a son, an operations manager, an aspiring motorcycle rider. I’m so many things.”
On using opiates: “That wool sweater two sizes too small finally came off. I felt like I arrived, like I could live and just be myself.”
On recovery: “Recovery is not a one-shot deal…It took some people really showing me how bad my issue was…I started to buy into the fact that I never had to use if I didn’t want to…I took every small opportunity offered and built off it.”
Dan Johnson, Acadia Family Center
“It’s not just ‘say no.’”
Substance abuse disorder is not a moral failing but an acquired brain disease.
Genetics play a major role.
95 percent failure rate for abstinence models.
Higher success rate for medical assisted treatment with counseling.
Sue Mackey Andrews, Maine Resilience Building Network
“It’s never too late to help someone with substance abuse disorders.”
Adverse childhood experiences—trauma—creates climate of fear, anxiety, stress, contributes to substance abuse disorder.
Denise Black, Healthy Acadia, Drug-Free Communities
“A spectrum of support is needed.”
Local recovery coach training available.
Dr. Charles Zelnick,
Island Health and Wellness
Offers medication assisted therapy.
Treated 30-35 patients over five years: “I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Todd West, Deer Isle-Stonington High School Principal
“The landscape is changing.”
“Small number” of high school students using opiates.
School wants to provide resilience training, treatment, education.
Tony Bray, Opiate-Free Island Partnership
“We need to de-mystify process of getting help.”
Addicts have “burned all their bridges…Recovery is really complex…There’s a short window in which addicts are willing to reach out for help.”
Ideas: 24/7 hotline for Deer Isle-Stonington, increased counseling.