AUGUSTA, Maine — Tens of thousands of Mainers are struggling with addiction to a wide range of substances, from tobacco to alcohol and both legal and illegal drugs. Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday he believes more should be done to help recovering addicts.
“Governor Dukakis made some very good points at our meeting last month,” Baldacci said in a Wednesday interview. “We should be looking to more help in this area, if we can.”
After a signing ceremony for a proclamation designating September as Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, the governor acknowledged that very little in state resources have been allocated to addiction treatment and recovery, except for tobacco addiction.
“We have a tremendous track record there,” he said. “But, if there are things in the smoking addiction area that apply to drinking and other types of addiction, then we should recognize that opportunity.”
Baldacci said the Department of Health and Human Services is studying the various pro-grams that receive grants from the Fund for a Healthy Maine. That fund gets its revenue from the yearly payment to the state from the tobacco companies as the result of the decade-old settlement of a national class-action lawsuit for health care costs associated with smoking.
“I will be looking to see if there is the opportunity to expand the types of addictions from beyond smoking to all the other addictions,” he said.
Debbie Dettor, coordinator of the Maine Alliance for Addic-tion Recovery, said any state resources for treatment and recovery would help. She said the state currently provides no resources to help recovering addicts.
“There are a very small percentage of people in Maine that can get treatment,” she said. “There simply are not the re-sources.”
Dettor is encouraged that Gov. Baldacci is looking at pathways that may lead to state aid for prevention and treatment and recovery programs.
“Recovery has really been invisible in our culture for-ever,” she said. “We are getting good understanding about ad-diction; we see more and more the problems addiction creates in people’s lives. We all have family members or friends that are addicted.”
Dettor said her group is sponsoring four forums across the state this month to explore the addiction and recovery problems in Maine. She said the meetings are an attempt to “put a face” to the issue of ad-diction in the state. The forums will be held today at the Bangor Civic Center; Sept. 13, at the University of Maine at Augusta; Sept. 20, at Fort Hali-fax Park in Winslow; and Sept. 24, at the Preble Street Re-source Center in Portland.
Baldacci said he understands the need for more prevention and treatment services, but said the state is facing great budget demands for the rest of his administration. He said that is why he hopes some funding can be used from the Fund for a Healthy Maine.
Maine has used funds from the tobacco settlement for a variety of health-related pro-grams, with more than $17 mil-lion allocated this year for smoking cessation and prevention programs. About $6.7 mil-lion is allocated to substance abuse programs. The total expected in the fund this budget year is nearly $64 million.
“We have had a 50 percent reduction in smoking because of the programs we have funded,” Baldacci said. “We know prevention efforts work. I would like to see them expanded to all addictions.”
Baldacci said the infrastructure the state has developed to address tobacco addiction can be used to address alcohol and other drug abuse.
“We have, I think, 32 community-based programs throughout the state already,” he said.
But, he acknowledged there are competing demands on the Fund for a Healthy Maine. Doz-ens of programs get some aid already, ranging from smoking cessation and prevention pro-grams to helping to pay for the low-cost drugs for the elderly program.
Baldacci said substance abuse is expensive to Maine’s economy. He said preventing a hospitalization or an emergency room visit is a major savings, and that the earlier a prevention program reaches a person, the larger the savings.
In a report released earlier this year by the Office of Sub-stance Abuse, the estimated total cost of substance abuse in Maine in 2005 was $898 million or about $660 for each Maine resident. The study included both direct and indirect costs such as child welfare expenses totaling $52 million.