Gov. Paul LePage is to be commended for convening a group of law enforcement officials and addiction and recovery providers to address the statewide problem of substance addiction and for acknowledging that, “We can’t just arrest our way out of this problem.”

Escalating illegal drug use is a symptom of a much larger addiction problem in Maine, a problem that won’t be solved solely by cracking down on drug dealers. The big picture also must include the thousands of Mainers affected by alcohol and opiate addiction and marijuana use, which has increased significantly over the last few years.

We need to take a hard look at our treatment and recovery efforts to make sure that effective tools are in place to help all individuals climb out of the downward spiral of addiction to become contributing members of our communities.

Unfortunately, state funding has been cut for a key program that has a proven track record of helping addicts return to productive lives. If funding decisions aren’t reversed or at least reconsidered, the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery will be shut down on Dec. 31, closing a main avenue to recovery for hundreds of addicts throughout the state who rely on the alliance for ongoing support.

At $150,000 per year, the cost of the program is not high in dollars, especially in light of the recently declared $59 million in state surplus, but the toll will be heavy on those now in recovery and those ready to take the first steps.

Through its support initiatives in communities throughout the state, Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery staff work with hospitals and treatment centers in Maine to quickly identify and connect individuals to resources in the community, where the real struggle for ongoing success begins. Timeliness is crucial and often can mean the difference between addicts following through to success or falling through the cracks.

Most important, all alliance services are free to clients. Cost is all too often a barrier to needed resources.

The net the alliance casts is wide, and staff brings recovery coach training for many, including inmates at the Maine State Prison. This month, the alliance will provide recovery coach training to volunteers at Community Partnerships for Protecting Children in Portland, an organization dedicated to helping to raise healthy children, our most vulnerable population.

The Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery is collaborating with the Kennebec County district attorney’s office, local counseling agencies and MaineGeneral Medical Center to establish an opiate recovery support team with the Augusta Police Department. It is modeled on the Gloucester, Massachusetts, Angel Project Program, which emphasizes treatment, not punishment.

A hallmark of the alliance is peer support, which has proven to be effective in helping individuals sustain long-term recovery. Services include telephone recovery support as well as coaching and mentoring. Under this highly successful model, services are led by individuals who have struggled with their own addiction. They serve as role models to connect individuals with needed services and community support. Peers are often the only safety net between success and failure; between hope and despair.

The alliance’s telephone recovery support services have served hundreds of addicts actively seeking help. Support is convenient, with fewer disruptions to daily life, no travel or childcare expense.

The Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery also is heading a project to create and maintain, at the click of a mouse, an up-to-date map of all available addiction support and recovery services throughout Maine.

Maintaining and expanding recovery support is critical to improving the landscape of drug and alcohol addiction in Maine.

With addiction at a crisis stage, it is not the time to pull the plug on a successful program. Today, increasing numbers of Mainers are seeking help to break the hold of their addiction, get back their lives back on track and retake their place as contributing members of our community.

Addicts are from all walks of life, all ages and from every social strata. And they are not alone. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, the ripple effect of addiction extends to family members, friends, neighbors, employers, co-workers and beyond.

It is important that Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery programs and services remain available. Without funding, these services will disappear. The stakes of recovery are high and the return on investment incalculable, both for addicts and all those caught in the ripple.

Darren Ripley is coordinator for the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, Augusta. Email at [email protected]

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