April 07, 2020

Opiate use to be focus of campaign

My family recently underwent a huge change by welcoming my 15-year-old niece into our home.

She’s a wonderful and personable girl who’s a sophomore in high school, but she has gone through major trauma and her issues and emotions are far from the norm.

So when I introduced her to Bangor High School, these were my key words of advice.

“Don’t take any pill that anyone offers you. Ever. Under any circumstances. Ever!”

Having written about the pervasive opiate addiction (i.e. heroin and OxyContin) that has plagued this part of our state for the past six years, it seemed to be the wisest advice I could give to an incoming sophomore.

Because of the issues that she has faced as a young girl, she may be at even more risk than the average teen and that’s scary for any parent, let alone a brand new one of a 15-year-old.

I first wrote about the heroin and prescription narcotic drug problem here in Eastern Maine in 2000. At that time, U.S. Attorney Jay McCloskey warned us all about how this problem was spreading across Eastern Maine.

It turned out he was right.

This community, from teachers, to city councilors to bankers turned out by the hundreds to debate whether a methadone clinic at Acadia Hospital was the appropriate thing for this community.

It was a controversial issue.

Fast forward to six years later. There are 700 people enrolled in the narcotics treatment program at Acadia and 90 more waiting. There are waiting lists at every clinic in the state.

Last month a group from Eastern Maine Health Care Systems, Acadia Hospital and the Chamber of Commerce teamed up with local businesses and civic groups and even city councils to say this problem is even worse than it was then.

Starting next month a two-year public campaign will begin to try to educate our residents about the problem of opiate abuse and how it affects our economy, our schools and our health care costs.

According to literature from Acadia Hospital, eastern Maine, per capita, has more opiate addicts than anywhere in the nation.

The most opiate addicts and the highest taxes. Who could not be proud.

Too many of these addicts are pregnant young women. The average age of the addict entering treatment is between 22 and 30 and normally they have been addicted for five years before seeking treatment.

That means many are starting in high school.

Brent Scobie is 37. He has three young children. He is now the front man for narcotic treatment at Acadia. He’s probably more of a counselor and therapist than he is a media guy, but he’s quickly learning that part of his new role is trying to educate our entire community as to the seriousness of this issue.

“I’m truly scared about my own children’s teen years,” he told me this week.

Boy, do I get that.

Parents may be able to tell if their child has been drinking. Perhaps they stagger or slur their words. Not so with opiates. In fact they may be more engaging. You actually may enjoy their company more.

“It’s very difficult for parents to see it and therefore most parents have no idea, but we are seeing a lot of young people using this and it’s getting under the parents’ radar until the addiction is solidified. It’s very, very scary and parents have got to get educated,” he said.

Acadia Hospital, Eastern Maine Health Care Systems, the Chamber of Commerce, the Bangor City Council and private businesses are gearing up for a two-year intensive campaign to educate you.

I love all three of the kids who live in my house. I’m going to pay attention. I hope you do to.

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