According to a recent Society of Actuaries study, the opioid crisis will cost the U.S. economy between $171 billion and $214 billion this year alone. From direct health care costs to the unrealized lifetime earnings of those who have passed away, the drug epidemic has wreaked havoc on local economies, especially in states like Maine.
More important is the devastating human cost of this epidemic. Last year, 354 of our friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers in Maine lost their lives to drug overdoses — an average of nearly one for every day of the year.
Given the scale of this crisis, we need to do much more to make our communities “recovery-ready,” creating a continuum of support for people seeking recovery, people in recovery, and their allies.
First and foremost, we need to come together as communities and confront the stigma associated with substance use disorder. Rather than treating addiction as a moral failure or weakness — which can prevent people from seeking treatment — we must recognize it as a chronic illness that has an impact on every one of us.
Fortunately, open dialogue about the opioid epidemic is becoming more common. In July, Gov. Janet Mills organized a “Turning the Tide” opioid summit in Augusta, where more than 1,000 people gathered for a day of keynote lectures, breakout sessions, panel discussions and informal sharing of their personal experiences with the epidemic, resulting in proposed innovative solutions to the problem.
We need to build on that momentum and keep these conversations going across Maine. Through the end of this year, we’re inviting Mainers to a series of free film screenings of Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s “Recovery Boys” and “Heroin(e)” — two award-winning documentaries on the opioid crisis — and encouraging them to participate in community forums about the issue. Beginning in Porter last weekend, each screening will be followed by a panel discussion with local health care providers, social workers, law enforcement officers, and people in recovery. The next screening of Recovery Boys is at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Sheldon is scheduled to attend.
From Kittery to Calais and Caribou, these events will reach every corner of the state, raising awareness about the local impacts of the epidemic and the resources we need to address it. These include expanding access to treatment, prevention, peer support, housing, employment, and education.
Starting with this sense of connection and shared responsibility, we can each play a role in making Maine communities more recovery-ready.
Sean Flynn serves as program director for the Points North Institute in Camden. Through “Recovery in Maine,” the Institute is using documentary film to bring communities together and confront the opioid crisis.