This is the first in a series of columns that will be dedicated to making our community a healthier place for us all to live. Ultimately, the health of our community can be assured only by our joining together as neighbors to support each other. Neighbors Helping Neighbors will be the recurring theme of the columns, and this first one is devoted to the most pressing issue facing Knox County at this time: a horrifying epidemic of drug addiction.

Just last month, at the tip of this addiction iceberg, there were two more tragic drug overdose deaths in Rockland, including a sweet, beloved 19-year-old mother of a 2-year-old daughter. In fact, thousands of Knox County residents suffer from opiate addiction. It affects more than 10 percent of all of our teenagers and young adults. Every year, more than a thousand babies are born from drug-using mothers in Maine, beginning a new cycle of addiction for the next generation. 

Every day, dozens of Knox County residents cry out for treatment of their addiction, finding no one available to help.  Their suffering  affects their families and friends and erodes the health and safety of our neighborhoods. Criminal activity increases and the damages caused by addiction cost us all in direct and indirect ways. For many patients, instead of receiving treatment, they fill our jails and prisons, where there is no help for them at all. If we do not do anything to slow and stop this epidemic, it will threaten to turn our beautiful “Vacationland” into a “Wasteland.”  

This is not a new problem, only an ever-worsening problem. Yet, in the 10 years that I have lived in Knox County, I have never seen any substantial actions taken locally to prevent and treat addiction. There are many well-meaning people in our community, but the only actions taken seem to be talking about it and doing little else to bring this epidemic under control. It should be a surprise to no one that every day the problem worsens.

On February 4th, Rockland City Council Chambers was  packed with concerned community members and community professionals trying to address this ever-worsening epidemic. The results of that discussion are summarized below.

Strongly Positive Actions —

Dr. Brian Pierce recently began treating people with addiction in his practice in Rockport.

Encouraging Actions —

A large number of concerned community members, many directly and indirectly affected by addiction, attended the Heroin/Opiate Addiction Forum held on February 4. Also present were a large number of diverse practitioners who seek to combine efforts to impact the addiction epidemic.

Expressed Concerns —

Several nurses from Pen Bay Women’s Health described the lack of meaningful treatment for pregnant addicted women whose obstetrical care was provided at Pen Bay. In the absence of high-quality addiction treatment, these women are at high risk for complications of pregnancy that could threaten the lives of both mother and baby. Inadequate treatment is related to brain damage to infants if they survive to birth. The nurses decried the lack of meaningful actions within Pen Bay Healthcare to address this problem.

Clear Opportunities for Improvement —

The doctors and leadership of Pen Bay Healthcare, the largest health care organization in Knox County, did not attend this very important forum where community concerns and suggestions were offered.

There are successful primary-care practices in Waldo and Lincoln counties that do treat addiction (as well as three successful non-Pen Bay family physician practices in Knox County). But despite that demonstrated ability on the part of primary-care practices to treat addiction, Pen Bay Healthcare has not developed or implemented plans to enable any of its primary-care doctors to provide addiction treatment to their patients. Pen Bay has more than 100 doctors, yet none provide ongoing addiction treatment to their patients, despite this being identified as the #1 threat to the community at a previous meeting with Pen Bay leadership present (Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment on January 12, 2016).

Please read MaineHealth’s Strategic Plans for 2016 (www.mainehealth.org/strategic-plan). Absent in the 20-page report is any mention of plans to address the addiction epidemic affecting all of MaineHealth’s service area. On page 9, the report stated, “We are committed to improving the health status of our communities” and “We will preserve our commitment to the ideals of our not-for-profit tradition, including access to care of all.” I am sure most readers would agree that they hope these words of MaineHealth’s soon turn into action to address the epidemic threatening our entire community.

For those in need of addiction treatment in Knox County, please contact: get.treatment.help@gmail.com (or call or text 370-9881).

For those who would like to join the Knox County network to battle addiction, please contact: knox.recovery.network@gmail.com (or call or text 370-9881).

For those who would would like to join Neighbors Helping Neighbors, please contact: join.the.knox.cause@gmail.com (or call or text 370-9881).