Press Release

$3.9 million project will aid youngest substance abuse victims

In Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, children age 5 and under whose families are struggling with substance abuse will have improved well-being and safety, and a better chance of staying in or returning to their own homes rather than remaining in foster care under a five-year, $3.9 million project led by the Bangor-based Families And Children Together, the University of Maine School of Social Work and a coalition of community organizations and agencies.

The Penquis Regional Linking Project: Building Quality Services for Rural and Frontier Communities will receive $797,405 annually for five years from the Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau’s Promoting Safe and Stable Families program. The effort will involve at least 25 area service agencies, led by F.A.C.T. and Beverly Daniels, executive director of F.A.C.T.

Jennifer Middleton, a UMaine assistant professor of social work, is the lead researcher on the

project and co-director of evaluation. Middleton, who will team in the project’s evaluation with Len Kaye, a UMaine professor of social work and director of the Center on Aging

The project will address a particularly critical need in the Penquis region of the state — Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, and the Penobscot Nation, said the project coordinators.

Maine has the highest opiate addiction rate per capita in the country at 386 per 100,000, compared to 45 per 100,000 for the Unites States and 131 for New England, according to Middleton. In addition, a recent and growing problem is the use of bath salts; of the state’s 152 bath salts overdoses in 2011, 30 percent were in Penobscot County.

The high opiate rate has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of babies born with intrauterine exposure to drugs, the researchers said. The statewide number has jumped from 165 babies affected in 2005 to 667 in 2011. Of those, 173 were opiate-exposed. At Eastern Maine Medical Center, the primary birthing hospital in the Penquis region, a third of all drug-exposed infants in Maine — 195 substance-affected newborns — were treated in 2011. And the numbers continue to climb significantly in the Penquis region. The first two quarters of 2012 statistics regarding substance-exposed infants at EMMC show a 20 percent projected increase for this year, compared to 2011, Middleton said.

The newly funded Penquis Regional Linking Project is a “community engaged” research project and one of the first of its kind in the nation to implement and evaluate a trauma-informed system of care for substance-exposed infants and their families.

The Linking Project will dovetail into the existing Penquis District Linking Partnership to build a family-focused, integrated trauma-informed service system to mitigate the negative effects that substance abuse has on children and families. The Linking Partnership was created approximately one and a half years ago as a regional network of healthcare organizations, child welfare organizations, social service agencies, kinship care service providers, substance abuse treatment providers, public health agencies, institutions of higher learning including UMaine and the University of New England, and three offices in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services — Substance Abuse, Child and Family Services and the Family Drug Court Project.

In addition to UMaine and F.A.C.T., other partnering agencies in the Linking Project are Eastern Maine Medical Center; the Penobscot Nation; Wellspring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Bangor Public Health Nurses; Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services; Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Substance Abuse; Maine Academy of Pediatrics; Maine Families; Maine Touchpoints Project; Helping Hands with Heart; Charlotte White Center; Acadia Hospital; Children’s Developmental Services; Children’s Growth Council; and WINGS.

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