“We cannot arrest our way out of the opiate crisis,” said Bath Chief of Police Mike Field. “It’s a community problem and we need a multi-pronged approach of enforcement, treatment, and public education.”
Chief Field was joined by Tom Kivler, Senior Director of Behavioral Health at Mid Coast—Parkview Health, to speak on: The Opiate Crisis in Mid Coast Maine: How Bad Is It? What Can Be Done? at United Way’s Annual Meeting on May 18.
“The opiate crisis is a problem which exists in every community in Maine,” stated Field, “and there is no longer a stereotype user – addicts are people like you and me.”
To address the escalating crisis, a Maine Opiate Collaborative was assembled, including leadership by US Attorney Thomas Delahanty, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, Maine Sherriff Association President Sagadahoc County Sherriff Joel Merry, and Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Mid Coast—Parkview Eric Haram. The Collaborative has made several recommendations, including increased intelligence sharing between state and local police to better prosecute drug dealers.
Kivler talked about neurobiological theory around addiction, sharing that “addiction is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.” He discussed a variety of effective treatments for opiate addiction, including medication-assisted treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and a program for addicted pregnant women called “Snuggle Me.”
Meeting attendees were invited to take part in the prevention of drug abuse by disposing of prescription drugs correctly. “The most common place people get illicit opiates is the medicine cabinet of someone they know,” said Kivler. “The community can now dispose of medications at many law enforcement agencies, and some pharmacies.”
Field and Kivler both mentioned investment in early childhood as a key to prevention. Kivler referenced Dr. Vincent Felitti’s 1998 study on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to show how important the first year of life is. “The critical brain development that occurs in the first 1,000 days leads to solid cognitive function, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence. Without this strong foundation a child’s risk profile goes up across all domains of health and social functioning.”
High ACE scores directly correlate with high rates of adult smoking, alcoholism, and intravenous drug use. One conclusion of the study is “the cause of addiction is experience-related rather than substance-dependent,” said Kivler.
Adverse childhood experiences occur from more than just everyday stress of life. “It’s when situations of extreme stress are prolonged and unrelenting, in the absence of supportive adults, that a child is affected by toxic stress,” said Kivler. “These situations can include extreme poverty, physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, severe maternal depression, substance abuse, or family violence.”
Kivler ended on a hopeful note: “As a community, we are on the right track to reducing the risk of addiction for our local children.” United Way’s early childhood initiative work was mentioned as “making a difference by supporting new parents with real-life parenting support and strategies that encourage healthy brain development for their babies.”
United Way 2015 results highlighted at the meeting included a campaign which raised $1,850,538 for the community. Approximately 20,000 Mid Coast residents were helped by United Way-funded strategies last year through 37 partner agencies and several United Way initiatives, including the Best Start Initiative which focuses on giving every Mid Coast infant the best possible start in life. United Way also helped leverage $4 million worth of volunteer power, and assisted over 5,000 local residents find help through 2-1-1 Maine, a free, confidential, and 24/7 referral service started by United Ways of Maine to make sure people who needed services could find them.
Community Builder Awards were presented to Jaki Ellis and Craig McEwen, Bowdoin College, and the Best Start Initiative Team. The Best Start Initiative Team was recognized for their collaborative efforts to help local children get the best foundation for their brain development by creating of a new unified system for all or most new parents to experience the benefits of research-based home visiting services. The team is comprised of members from multiple agencies, including Early Head Start, The Opportunity Alliance, the Teen and Young Parent Program, Public Health Nursing, Martin’s Point Health Care, CHANS Home Health Care, Mid Coast Medical Group – Women’s Health Care, Mid Coast Hospital, Hornby-Zeller Associates, the John T. Gorman Foundation, and United Way. Ellis and McEwen were recognized for their many years of leadership in the Mid Coast region, most recently successfully leading a team charged with finding resources and information about healthy parenting for new parents.
Bowdoin College was recognized for their ongoing and extensive role in engaging with the common good by encouraging student and faculty involvement in the community, supporting local agencies, and embodying philanthropy-in-action. “Our Mid Coast Maine community is healthier and stronger because of Bowdoin College’s commitment to social responsibility,” said United Way Executive Director Barbara Reinertsen.
Eight nominees were elected or reelected to the Board of Directors: Claire Berkowitz of the Maine Children’s Alliance, Bill Brillant of Downeast Energy, Matt Cunio of UNUM, Glenn Hutchinson of Bath Savings Institution, Connie Jones of LincolnHealth, Tom Kivler of Mid Coast—Parkview Health, Bruce MacDonald of Boothbay, and Pat Thomas of Bath Iron Works.
Connie Jones was elected Chair of United Way’s Board of Directors, Nancy Jennings of Bowdoin College and Joel Wegner of Five County Credit Union were elected 1st and 2nd Vice Chairs. Bowdoin College VP for Finance and Assistant Treasurer Matt Orlando was reelected to the position of Treasurer.
“We’ve set a great course for the future,” said incoming Board Chair Connie Jones before adjourning the meeting.
The Annual Meeting was sponsored by Oxford Networks.
United Way of Mid Coast Maine’s mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities. In partnership with thousands of donors, United Way works to improve education, financial stability, and health for people in Brunswick and Harpswell, Sagadahoc and Lincoln Counties.
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