Speakers inject dose of reality into opiate crisis conversation
FORT KENT, Maine — A panel of experts convened at the University of Maine at Fort Kent on Friday, March 17 to discuss substance abuse and the opioid crisis in Maine.
Among the speakers was Gordon Smith, an attorney for the Maine Medical Association. Smith presented some startling statistics regarding drug abuse in the state, such as that more than one Mainer died from a drug overdose per day in 2016, with 376 such deaths. One out of every 11 babies born in Maine last year was born drug affected, he said.
Smith also discussed Public Law Chapter 488 “An Act To Prevent Opiate Abuse by Strengthening the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program” which the Maine legislature passed in July, 2016. The law requires providers to check an online database when prescribing benzodiazepine or opioid medications, to monitor for potential drug abuse. It also places limits on the amounts of the drugs which doctors can prescribe and mandates electronic prescribing of opioids.
Chief Tom Pelletier of the Fort Kent Police Department discussed the issue from a local law enforcement perspective.
“The Valley is a little different,” he said. “We do have a problem but we’re fortunate not to have it at the level central or downeast Maine has.” The chief said that opiate abuse impacts the local area when those seeking the drugs break into homes to try and steal them from others.
He added that some young students have brought prescription pills to school after taking them from their parents.
Speaker Daryl Boucher of the Aroostook Medical Center and Crown Ambulance said that in The County, people often obtain the drugs from friends and family and at parties rather than purchasing them on the streets. He said that when people who are addicted to opioid medications are no longer able to obtain them, they often turn to heroin which he said is “cheap to make, produce, and buy.”
Boucher advocated for area police agencies to keep on hand Narcan, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, to treat opioid overdoses. He said that although some are reluctant to use Narcan to treat overdoses, he has seen many people die who would have been saved had the antidote not been available.
“It doesn’t take too many 25 year old deaths to change your mind,” he said.
Doug Levesque, a social worker at Fish River Rural Health, discussed the limited resources available in Aroostook County to address those who seek substance abuse treatment. He said the two maintenance clinics available in Aroostook County, both have waiting lists of six months or more. A 28-day inpatient clinic in Limestone has a two-month waiting period, Levesque said.
“When we’re talking about addicts, we have to treat the problem in the moment, not two months later,” he said.
Other speakers included Dr. Erik St. Pierre, Dr. David Jones, Eva Quirion and Michelle Plourde-Chasse.