Greater Bangor’s legislative delegation, Republicans and Democrats, recently joined with their Augusta colleagues to support legislation that will begin to address the state’s opioid-dependence epidemic. Their vote in favor of compromise legislation to enhance law enforcement, treatment and recovery efforts was a remarkable political achievement and a monumental accomplishment for this region’s public health.
To set the stage: Two years ago, more than eight months of discussion, research and collaboration among a working group of citizens, public safety officials and medical and health care professionals in Bangor and Brewer produced 17 recommendations to confront the scourge of opioid abuse and dependence in our communities.
The recommendations are a “roadmap” for communities to follow, and they include prescribing protocols drafted by area medical providers to help reduce the amount of opioids prescribed in northern Maine, an education campaign to address the stigma and shame that burdens those trying to restore their lives and a pilot program to offer medication-assisted treatment in rural practices, close to where patients live.
These recommendations have been taken up by the Community Health Leadership Board, or CHLB, comprising regional representation from municipal and major health care institutions. Since that time, representatives of the public working group, municipal government, law enforcement representatives, health and medical professionals have been pulling in the same direction, toward public policy that will give us the structure and tools we need to create a healthy region, save lives and heal families torn apart by drug dependence and abuse.
None of this could be achieved without legislative support. This winter our legislators, all of them, stepped up and delivered. They attended our legislative delegation breakfast, met with us one on one, listened to their communities and heard us. This is how government should work. These are difficult times, needs are great, resources are limited. But our elected representatives and senators demonstrated how civility and partnership can win the day.
The compromise legislation is just the beginning. No group is entirely happy or satisfied with all components of the bill. But good-faith negotiations allowed the Legislature to vote unanimously to provide a $3.7 million down payment on our state’s now invigorated fight against drug addiction and its tragic consequences.
The bill addresses the supply and demand for heroin and other deadly drugs. We will add 10 more MDEA agents to investigate drug traffickers and clean up our streets. There will be a new detox facility in northern and eastern Maine. More uninsured Mainers will be able to find help so no one has to fight addiction alone. Peer support recovery centers will get a boost to help those in recovery avoid relapse. We will build on the success of law enforcement programs such as Scarborough’s Operation Hope. This pioneer program connects addicts with the resources they need to get help.
Our legislators deserve our thanks. Led by Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and our local delegation, the entire Legislature came together to address the public health crisis of substance abuse. That is the way government is supposed to work.
Patty Hamilton is director of public health for the city of Bangor and chair of the Community Health Leadership Board.