Opiate addiction continues to dominate the news across the United States, with increasing recognition that it has reached a crisis stage. Every day, more than 130 Americans die of drug overdoses, equivalent to an airplane crash daily. In Maine, 1 out of every 12 babies are born from addicted mothers and enter the world in full-blown drug withdrawal. In Knox County, most people with drug addiction cannot find treatment. Now is time for action.

Rockland Mayor Louise MacLellan-Ruf and I are convening a meeting — Tuesday, April 12, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Rockland City Hall — of community leaders and stakeholders to address this crisis together. Knox County Community Health Coalition is also supporting the event. The meeting will develop an action plan to cover five key areas:

• Prevention Education — In the past year alone, the rates of drug overdose have increased by 31% in Maine. While improving access to treatment is the most immediate concern, much needs to be done to slow and reverse the number of Knox County residents who succumb to drug addiction. The root causes of addiction are numerous and deep. Solutions will require a very high level of community support and involvement.

• Treatment/Recovery — Currently, in Knox County, only three doctors are available for long-term treatment of opiate addiction. This is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the addicted population. This workgroup will explore means to increase the number of physicians available to treat people with addiction and to maximize access to addiction counseling, faith-based approaches, Narcotics Anonymous, addiction coaches and many other addiction services.

• Law Enforcement — Rockland Police Chief Bruce Boucher will lead a workgroup to explore healthier and more productive alternatives to incarceration of people with substance use disorder. Most Maine police chiefs now favor drug treatment rather than punishment, but challenges to the status quo remain.

• Funding/Support Services — This workgroup will be facilitated by Helen Rogers of the Knox County Homeless Coalition to address issues such as the lack of health insurance and other financial support for people with drug addiction.  People with substance use disorder are trapped in their disease even when they are offered state-of-the-art medical treatment. They are held back by their unhealthy, impoverished environment that forces them to live with severe life stresses, needing to decide which basic need will be compromised to meet another. For people with substance use disorder and their families, this is a recipe for treatment failure and further traumas to themselves and ever widening circles of the population. Methods of providing support to people with addiction will be discussed including seeking volunteer and financial support from the community at large.

• Family/Friends — This group will be facilitated by MacLellan-Ruf to provide a healing environment for grieving family and friends and offer ideas about how to impact the crisis.

Progress towards meeting community needs will be reported in future Neighbors Helping Neighbors columns. Anyone interested in learning more about the April 12 meeting is encouraged to e-mail join.the.knox.cause@gmail.com (or call or text 370-9881).