Maine’s first director of opioid response reports on the current state of the crisis and funding allocation.
Gordon Smith, Maine’s director of opioid response, recently reported of the state’s opioid crisis, “We are still just building a foundation…which is why we needed a strategic plan.” Governor Janet Mills appointed Smith as the state’s first director of opioid response in January 2019.
Smith said, “Medicaid expansion has provided access to medication-assisted treatment for 5,000 people, and “more than half” the state’s hospitals “now offer that medication on essentially a walk-in basis.” The problem the state is currently having relates to an inability to meet the overwhelming demand for counseling services, recovery coaches, and other supports for long-term opioid use disorder recovery.
In a briefing for the Health and Human Services Committee, Smith announced that Maine trained 250 recovery coaches last year as part of the response and is in the process of managing their activities and connecting the coaches with clients under the direction of a statewide plan to identify long-term strategies for reducing the impact of substance use disorder.
“There is a lot of great work being done, but we are still just building a foundation, in my opinion, which is why we needed a strategic plan,” Smith said. He went into detail regarding how the $5.5 million from the Fund for a Healthy Maine, which is supported by tobacco settlement money, was being spent.
“Fighting the opioid epidemic will be a long, difficult battle with ups and downs, but when it comes to the lives of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones, it is a fight that my administration will never shy away from,” Governor Mills added.
A statement from the Governor’s office reads, “There is no silver bullet to this complex problem, which is not simply a public safety or law enforcement matter, but a full-blown public health crisis that leaves thousands of children without a parent, communities devastated, employers without a healthy workforce, and families torn apart.”
In April of last year, Maine’s Attorney General’s office released a statement concerning the status of the state’s opioid crisis”
“While drug overdose deaths slightly decreased in 2018, there was still nearly one death for each day of the year,” said Attorney General, Aaron M. Frey. “Also, of significant concern is that there is no evidence to suggest that fewer Mainers are suffering from opioid use disorder. Individuals, families, and communities continue to be harmed by this public health epidemic, and work must continue to address this crisis.”
A report compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center was made available and showed that “while the total of 354 drug fatalities during 2018 was lower than the 417 deaths reported in 2017, 80% were caused by opioids, frequently in combination with other drugs or alcohol. At least 89 percent of those deaths were attributed to accidental overdoses.”
It also stated, “Maine is not the only state seeing a reduction in overdoses. The across-the-board reduction in both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical drug deaths suggests broad influences are impacting overdose rates, for example, economic changes, the composition and combination of drugs being trafficked, and regional law enforcement efforts, as well as specific policy changes around opioids.”