A Hopeful Path Forward at Maine’s Opiate Crisis Summit

Guests assembled for lunch listening to the Attorney General, Aaron Frey

In her opening remarks at the Opiate Response Summit, Governor Janet Mills expressed her appreciation for Gordon Smith. One of the Governor’s first actions, post-inauguration, was to found the Opiate Response and Prevention Taskforce directed by Smith. Mills’ founding of this taskforce underscores what a large priority the Opiate Epidemic represents for Mainers. Turning the Tide: Maine’s Path Forward in the Opiate Crisis, a summit which packed the Augusta Civic Center with over 1,000 people on the 15th, represented an overwhelmingly hopeful attitude towards harm reduction and prevention. Several days prior to the event, Smith commented that the need to cap registration at 1,050 people was a good problem to have. Many are invested in solving this Crisis.

The Governor opened the event with a grave message stressing the urgent need for awareness, and what is at stake for Maine families. In the past five years, 1,700 Mainers have died of drug overdose. If 1,700 baby seals washed up dead on the beach, said Mills, there would be a massive public response. “These are not ‘druggies’,” said Mills, “they are neighbors.” The Governor stressed in her speech that people affected by substance use disorders are family members: they are sons and daughters and parents, employees and employers, neighbors and friends.

Commissioners from many government Departments such as Health and Human Services, Public Safety, and Law Enforcement were present. Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin was also in attendance. Following the Governor’s remarks, attendees heard from Sam Quiones, author of Dreamland, a book which outlines the evolution of an American Opioid Crisis.

Afterward, the nine morning breakout sessions began. These were hosted by a variety of experts. The diverse topics from both morning and afternoon sessions included the following critical subjects:

· Addressing Stigma: Using Researched-Based Evidence

· Building Public Health Infrastructure

· Needle Exchanges and Naloxone Distributions

· Challenges in Recovery Centers and Housing

· Community Prevention Services at Work

· Data to Action: Harnessing Information to Tackle the Opioid Crisis

· Emerging Threats: Current and Predictive Trends

· Harm Reduction with Neonatal Focus

· How to Best Navigate Jobs and Transportation During Recovery

· Improving Access to Medications for OUD: Considerations for Special Populations

· Improving Access to Medications for OUD: Engaging More Clinicians to Offer Treatment

· Law Enforcement and its Role of Bringing Hope to Recovery

· MaineWorks: Offering Dignity, Trust, and a Path Forward

· OD Mapping and Overdose Response Through Community Partnerships

· Responsible Prescribing and Pain Control Debate: Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

· State Prevention Services: Opioid Task Force Update

· The Importance of Law Enforcement in Community Based Recovery

· The Power of Community Coalitions

· Voices of Recovery: Panel of Individuals in Recovery

Peter Michaud, Debate Moderator addressed the audience at the Responsible Prescribing and Pain Control Debate breakout session.

At lunch, the parents of two young men who lost their lives to substance abuse disorders spoke and shared their story before the assembled audience. Former White House Director of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, then spoke on the importance of community support in the recovery process. Speaking on his own experience with the disorder, he highlighted the stigma which only perpetuates the issue. “Epidemics don’t happen in a vacuum,” he said. Botticelli stressed the ways in which the epidemic is exacerbated by poor data, over-prescription, and lack of information and resources. He closed his remarks by pointing out the number of options that Maine should employ moving forward, saying “We cannot dictate other people’s paths to recovery.”

The panel of speakers who following the afternoon breakout session demonstrated a deluge of support from state government bodies all over New England and the North East. The Senior Advisor to the Governor of Rhode Island Tom Coderre, Senior Advisor to the Governor of New Hampshire David Mara, and the Commissioner of Health in Vermont Dr. Mark Levine sat on the panel, as well as the President of the American Medical Association Dr. Patrice Harris. Coderre succinctly represented the mentality of support shared by those in attendance when he encouraged Maine to “flatter Rhode Island by mimicking any of their ideas.” The goal of the Summit was to build on existing positive information so New England can better tackle this unprecedented Crisis.

Turning the Tide: Maine’s Path Forward in the Opiate Crisis served as a lightning rod for activists who wish to generate a reason for hope. And there are reasons to be hopeful. The Summit alone demonstrates an effort by the administration and the public to address an Opiate

Crisis sweeping Maine and America. Those in the recovery process are being given a larger voice at the table. Maine Law Enforcement is now prepared to administer Naloxone to those experiencing an overdose. In fact, 2017 was Maine’s high water mark for overdoses. We are turning the tide, and this Summit was among the first steps of many more to come.