BANGOR, Maine — An Otis man stood before a packed group of local law enforcement, community leaders, health care personnel, social workers and advocates on Tuesday and told his story about how he became addicted to drugs, and how it took more than just quitting to recover.

“I am a man proudly representing recovery,” said Nick St. Louis, who went to Ellsworth High School and played sports in his youth. “It’s taken me 15 years to get me to where I am today.”

St. Louis, who has been sober for about 20 months, spoke at the forum “Building a Community of Excellence Through Partnership. Substance Use Disorder: Prevention, Treatment & Recovery,” sponsored by the Bangor Public Health and Community Services and held at Husson University.

“It all started at the age of 13, and by the time I was 16, I started using heroin,” St. Louis said. “I entered my first detox when I was 18. I felt like I was in a really great space, but it wasn’t long before I connected with the same old friends again” and started using drugs again.

St. Louis went in and out of sobriety and along the way broke the law to support his drug habit. He went to jail and paid his dues, but his criminal history follows him around, and he’s been unable to find a job.

“It’s a huge barrier for work,” he said. “It goes downhill after the background check. If I can’t get a job, I can’t be self-sufficient. It’s a terrible place to be in.”

Those gathered for the event gave St. Louis a standing ovation when he finished telling his story, and a few said in order for the stigma around substance use and abuse to change, more people need to speak up about their addiction and be a part of the solution.

“The only way to do this is through individual stories,” Bethany McKnight, St. Joseph Healthcare’s vice president of Support Services and System Integration, told the crowd. “Everybody wants to know: Why do I care about that?”

That is one reason why St. Joseph’s, Eastern Maine Medical Center and other members of the Community Health Leadership Board in January will launch a collaborative series on substance abuse disorder called “Healthy Region.”

Dr. Noah Nesin, chief medical officer of Penobscot Community Health Care, said another change in the works to help address the root of the problem is new prescribing protocols.

“Eighty percent or more who end up with a heroin addiction started with opioids,” Nesin said, stressing the need for doctors to change what they prescribe for pain. “Over one-third of those prescribed opioids for chronic pain will end up addicted to those opioids.”

Doctors and dentists need new prescribing protocols to help ensure their patients receive the care they need, while avoiding the problems associated with abusing painkillers, for which Maine leads the nation in prescribing.

Ten speakers in all took to the podium to explain how their groups help those struggling with drug addiction, including legislator Aaron Frey, who talked about bills recently passed into law and others that will be discussed in Augusta in the coming year.

While the group met in Bangor, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins addressed a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee hearing in Washington titled “Opioid Abuse in America: Facing the Epidemic and Examining Solutions,” and she used Maine examples to make her points. Hearing members, including Collins, are looking at issues related to prevention, treatment and recovery of opioid addiction at the federal level.

In Bangor, breakout sessions were held to discuss early recovery housing and the establishment of a local social detox center, increasing public awareness to reduce the stigma around drug addiction, how to address family substance use, and increasing rural access to treatment and recovery programs.

“The idea was to bring everyone together to learn what everyone is doing and channel that energy,” said Laura Mitchell, who is part of Bangor Forward, an ad hoc initiative composed of residents.

St. Louis told the group that drug users are not all inherently bad people, but instead are people who make bad decisions because of their substance abuse addiction.

“The common theme in my recovery is through medication and counseling I have been able to achieve and sustained my recovery,” St. Louis said. “I have no urge to use anything, and I have changed my behavior, including cutting off ties with every single person I have used drugs with. I am now where I need to be and, more importantly, I am now where I want to be.”