BREWER, Maine — The use of synthetic bath salts by people in the Bangor region spread like wildfire last year and local police, emergency responders, hospital staffers and recovery providers were the first to see the flames.
“We had never seen anything like this before,” Acadia Hospital clinician Courtney Evans said Wednesday during a panel discussion at the 5th annual Summit on Addiction Recovery.
But soon, interagency partnerships between first responders, health care providers, school officials and recovery services groups were created to address the problem and educate the public about the dangerous drugs, said Bruce Campbell, clinical director at Wellspring Inc., a residential addiction treatment program in Bangor.
“Very quickly in the community we came together,” Shawn Yardley, director of the city of Bangor’s Department of Health and Community Services, said to summit attendees.
That effort helped to educate folks about what to do when dealing with the bizarre behaviors of users, and also led to groundbreaking treatments developed at Maine hospitals and used around the country.
Synthetic bath salts, commonly made from mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, known as MDPV, can be snorted, smoked, injected or mixed into a drink. It causes some users to become extremely paranoid, irrational and sometimes suicidal.
The drug users, often naked or partially naked because the drug causes the body’s temperature to rise, climbed into sewer pipes, ceilings and up fire escapes screaming that people were after them when no one was, and some gnawed at their own skin trying to kill invisible bugs.
In March 2011, the state had no bath salts overdoses or poisonings, but two months later the number had skyrocketed with more than 100 bath salts overdoses reported in June alone, said Campbell.
“There was a tremendous crisis and we were at a loss about how to respond to this,” he said.
State and federal legislation addressing the sale of such synthetic drugs, as well as education and enforcement efforts, have since helped to reduce the number of bath salts calls to police and hospitals, but they have not gone away.
“I’d like to tell you they’re not out there, but that’s not true,” Campbell said.
But more and more, efforts are turning to addiction recovery, said participants in Wednesday’s summit, held at the Brewer Auditorium.
“Our main goal is to make recovery visible,” said Joanna Russell, chairwoman of the Bangor Area Recovering Community Coalition, who is a 23-year recovering alcohol and drug addict who works for the tri-county workforce investment board. “Recovery can happen and does happen in this region.”
The summit was coordinated by the Bangor Area Recovering Community Coalition — a regional group of treatment providers, government agencies and other organizations, as well as individuals in recovery — with assistance from Bangor’s health department, local business, corporate sponsors and advocacy partners, said Campbell, who himself began on his road to recovery on Aug. 1, 1985.
Keynote speaker Jim Gillen, director of recovery services for the Anchor Recovery Community Center in Providence, R.I., said his facility offers a variety of programs for those seeking treatment and suggested that leaders of a new Brewer facility for the Bangor Area Recovering Network, or BARN, do the same.
Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous work for some, but other options such as a telephone recovery support program or peer-to-peer recovery programs work for others, he said.
“The person who needs these recovery services needs to be the author of their recovery,” Gillen said.
BARN received funding this year to purchase 142 Center St. in Brewer, which they are in the process of turning into a community center.
Bangor police Officer Ed Mercier said he has seen more than his share of drug and alcohol addicts while patrolling the streets of the Queen City, but he has also seen addicts break free from their addictions.
“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment for them,” the officer said. “I’m amazed by it. I really applaud their efforts.”