BANGOR, Maine — A group of area health care leaders, law enforcement officials, educators and politicians are forming a plan of attack to combat drug abuse and addiction in Bangor and, perhaps, across the state.
The group of 20-plus members convened for the first time Wednesday night in a conference room at the Cross Insurance Center. It will meet at least eight times, ending in November, with the ultimate goal of crafting recommendations for policy changes to stem substance abuse and improve treatment. It also will bring the nation’s top drug control official to Bangor to help.
Drug abuse is a costly issue in Maine. From 2005 and 2010, the estimated costs associated with alcohol and drug abuse skyrocketed from $898 million to $1.4 billion, according to a Maine Department of Health and Human Services study. That includes expenses ranging from hospital care for people who have overdosed to jail and court operations.
In 2012 the estimated cost was approximately $1.2 billion, according to DHHS, or about $888 for every Maine resident.
That’s money state and federal officials would like to see spent elsewhere.
The Bangor task force was assembled in response to a 180-day moratorium passed by the City Council in November 2013 that prohibited suboxone treatment facilities in Bangor from expanding. Treatment officials were critical of the decision, arguing it only would prevent addicts from being able to seek help. But the moratorium, spearheaded by Councilor Pauline Civiello, sparked a conversation that prompted the formation of the committee.
Wednesday’s meeting was organizational. The group laid out ground rules and protocols for future meetings, when experts in the field will discuss issues ranging from the psychology of addiction to how various treatment and recovery methods work. They’ll also cover how drug abuse has affected neighborhoods and residents in the city over the years.
Meetings are scheduled for the evenings of Sept. 10 and 24, Oct. 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29.
The Oct. 8 meeting will be a town hall forum at Husson University’s Gracie Theatre. The forum will focus on opiate abuse in the region. The top U.S. drug-control official, Michael Botticelli, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker. He’s the director of National Drug Control Policy, informally called the U.S. drug czar, and is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 25 years.
Along with local policy and ordinance changes, the group expects to draft recommendations for state and federal legislation aimed at curbing addiction and improving treatment options.
Still, Bangor and Maine have shown before that changes to policy and law can bring positive results, argued Penobscot County Chief Deputy Troy Morton, one of the members of the committee.
In 2011, Bangor was ground zero of what officials called a “bath salts epidemic.” The drug quickly popped up in cities large and small across the state. Users often became violent, suicidal or hallucinatory, and frequently were a danger to themselves or others.
The Legislature passed a state law cracking down on bath salts later that year. But that’s just one of many drugs that continue to afflict the state.
Bath salts, while still a problem on occasion, is far less prevalent than it was three years ago, thanks to rapid action, education and legislation at local, state and national levels, he said.
“As a society, we made a difference,” Morton said. “We didn’t stop it, but we came together and made a difference.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.