Five police departments in southern Maine have been awarded nearly $572,000 in state money to fund new programs to help opioid addicts find treatment and stay clean.

Portland, Westbrook, Biddeford, Saco and Sanford were notified on Sept. 2 by the state Department of Public Safety that they had received the awards, which were funded through an emergency act of the Legislature passed in the spring that allotted roughly $1 million for treatment and case management.

Although each department – Biddeford and Saco filed a joint application – tailored its program differently, all of them use police resources to reach out to addicts, shepherd them into the recovery process and connect them to services along the way.

The four recipients were selected from eight applicants and represent the latest attempt by local communities to knit together a network of support to stem the abuse of heroin and other opiates in a state that sorely lacks capacity to treat addicts.

About 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers have sought access to drug treatment, but have been unable to get it, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In 2015 there were 272 overdose deaths statewide, with the vast majority related to heroin, prescription opioids or fentanyl. Through the first six months of 2016, 189 people died from overdoses, up from 126 in the same period in 2015. At that rate, Maine is on pace to see 378 overdose deaths, a record number.

The York County Sheriff’s Office, the Hancock County Jail, the Bangor Police Department and the Aroostook County District Attorney’s Office did not receive money because their applications failed to meet required criteria, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which distributed the funds. McCausland said the department will consult with the Legislature about what to do with the remaining $430,000.

Portland’s program will split $125,000 almost evenly between funding a year of salary for a substance abuse liaison and paying for medication-assisted treatment for at least 10 people over six months.

“It’s incredibly important for us to have that outreach person to follow up on overdose calls, and (be) out on the street talking to people and building that trust to bring people to a position where we can bring people into medication-assisted treatment,” Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said.

Medication-assisted treatment uses a regimen of Suboxone to curtail cravings while patients receive intensive outpatient therapy.

Other programs, such as Operation Hope in Scarborough, frequently send patients to out-of-state treatment facilities because there are so few services available in Maine, especially for people without insurance or the means to pay out of pocket.

While some people experience success with that model, the community-oriented approach focuses on keeping people rooted in their communities as they recover so they build a more stable foundation to help them remain sober.

Sanford’s program is unique among the four that were awarded money because it focuses on providing direct treatment, instead of case-management services.

Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly Jr. said he chose to pair with Maine Behavioral Healthcare to offer 10 people 21 months of medication-assisted treatment, and will spend all of the $195,000 he will receive on providing direct care.

Instead of relying on a new hire to perform referral services to treatment, Connolly plans to train about a dozen police officers to perform the task of working with drug users to guide them toward seeking help.

“What’s lacking is community-based, evidence-based treatment,” Connolly said. “You can have all the case managers you want, but if you can’t get (drug users) into treatment, what good are they?”

In Westbrook, which was awarded $111,800, the department will pair up with surrounding police forces to train officers in addiction counseling, hire a case manager and work with officials at the Cumberland County Jail to eventually reach an estimated 300 people who need help, including 150 people who are incarcerated but are soon to be released.

Biddeford and Saco, which were awarded $140,000, also plan to hire outreach workers to help move people toward treatment and to provide a point of contact through the recovery process.


Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.