News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 1, 2018
Islanders see increase in local opioid addiction services

by Anne Berleant

Island-based Opiate Free Island Partnership, a nonprofit organization created in late 2016 to raise awareness and resources for opiate addiction issues, has succeeded in beginning its mission, say organizers, and, as larger organizations address the statewide and nationwide crisis, in placing the island in the front line for services.

Because of its rural nature, addressing addiction on the island is different, and more difficult in ways, than in larger areas, OFIP board chairman Charlie Osborn said. But one of the basic questions, he said, is “how does a community try to make sense of this?”

In 2016, 376 people died of drug overdoes in Maine, and the 2017 numbers look to be similar, according to a Maine Attorney General report issued last September.

Osborn outlined three programs that will provide resources to the island.

First are recovery coaches. OFIP paid for the training of a handful of local volunteers and, in 2018, will fund a coordinator position. Recovery coaches work one-on-one with individuals dealing with substance abuse issues to help find help and resources, and can be the first call someone seeking help makes. Healthy Acadia oversees the recovery coach program that currently is operated at the Hancock County Jail and the Project Hope at the Ellsworth Police Department.

Second, is the hub-and-spoke model that provides training for doctors to become certified to prescribe Suboxone (medication to treat opioid addiction) and then provides support services for them and for their patients. Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and Mount Desert Island Hospital will be hubs, and OFIP is working to have the island be a “spoke” served by them. Patients in the program will receive wraparound support services, such as counseling and urine testing, out of an Ellsworth center, as they transition from opioid use to Suboxone, and then continued support on the island will be provided for by a OFIP-funded weekly group counseling session. Currently, individuals prescribed Suboxone are required to have one private counseling session a month, and doctors have resisted becoming certified to prescribe Suboxone because the level of services that need to go with the prescription, in order for treatment to be successful, are more than they, alone, can provide. Each hospital contributed $50,000 toward the project, with Aroostook Mental Health Services overseeing it.

Third, the Opioid Health Home model, which uses federal funds designated for the opiate crisis, has been launched in Maine, Osborn said, and it changes the way the state funds treatment, expanding access to medically assisted treatment for patients on MaineCare or uninsured. It is designed especially to help provide treatment in rural communities, and OFIP is working toward having the island designated an OHH.

The island nonprofit is also working with CSD 13 to provide drug and addiction counseling and education in the schools.

“The treatment and recovery landscape is all over the block,” Osborn said. “It is so complex. Where does someone start?”

However, he said that some of the “well-recognized elements of the landscape are being developed in Hancock County. Our job is to take advantage of them.”

Also of primary importance is “getting people to recognize [addiction] is not a moral failure but a disease,” he added.

For Osborn, learning about addiction and how to treat it on the island has been an eye-opening experience.

“It’s been a real journey. It’s been a process of knitting things together and has made me realize how important it is for the community to come together, and then stand up and say, ‘Hey, look at me’ to get services.”

OFIP is funded through Island Health and Wellness Foundation, which allocated $30,000 per year for five years, and, in 2017, $20,000 from the town of Deer Isle. Voters in Stonington rejected the request; both towns will be asked again this year for the same amount in funding.