2015-10-09 / Front Page

Task force formed to handle Maine’s heroin problem

By TAMMY WELLS
Senior Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Treatment. Prevention and harm reduction. Law enforcement.

One component alone won’t solve Maine’s heroin and opiate abuse epidemic, those on the front lines say – but with a comprehensive approach, change can happen and real strides can be made.

That is the premise of the new Anti- Heroin Opiate Initiative announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney for Maine Thomas E. Delahanty II, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris.

“Maine is one of the safest states in the nation,” said Morris. “But we’re fighting an uphill battle.”

Morris said law enforcement isn’t interested in filling the county jails with users – but in apprehending dealers “coming up here to Maine to make a profit.”

Delahanty said the three working groups will examine options and roll them out. He said some solutions may require legislation.

There will be listening sessions across the state and meetings of the treatment and prevention groups will be public, as will some of the law enforcement sessions – though not all, so as not to give away strategy.

“This is really a public private endeavor,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Perry of the initiatives. “There’s no doubt the heroin and fentanyl problem is affecting every facet of Maine life,” he said, pointing to random bank robberies and car jackings and the like, driven by the drug trade.

Mills said Maine has to halt the demand and the supply.

She said five of 24 recent homicides in Maine are due to people killing each other over drugs.

She said in Farmington, her hometown, there have been five recent overdose deaths.

She said Maine is seeing an increase in incidents of children being placed in protective custody because, she said, “parents are too drugged up to take care of their kids.”

“The problem has many facets,” said Mills. She said the working groups are seeking concrete solutions and measurable results.

Members of the groups hail from all over the state. York County represen- tatives include Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly and York County Sheriff Bill King, along with Substance Abuse Prevention Project director William L. Paterson of UNE in Biddeford.

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association is one of the directors of the initiative.

“Substance abuse disease is a chronic illness and needs to be treated as a chronic illness and we need to reduce the stigma attached to it,” he said. He said patients will relapse and will deal with addiction for a lifetime.

“There is not sufficient resources for people who need treatment,” said Smith.

One task of the treatment working group will be to fully identify existing options.

Rebecca Chagrasulis, an emergency room physician at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway is a member of the initiative and of a separate task force in western Maine.

She agreed there are not enough treatment resources

“We have to expand access, she said, “And the state legislature needs to step up to the plate.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or twells@journaltribune.com.

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