A Maine native who spent the last six years as a psychiatry professor at the Yale University School of Medicine has been named director of Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

Jessica Pollard began her new job Monday, according to a news release from the Department of Health and Human Services. She replaces Sheldon Wheeler, who was appointed by former Gov. Paul LePage in 2014 and led the office as the state dealt with a ballooning opioid crisis over the past several years. Wheeler was reassigned to DHHS’ Office of Family Independence.

Jessica Pollard Maine DHHS

Pollard was born and raised in Penobscot County and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Maine at Farmington. She earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Connecticut. Prior to teaching at Yale, she worked at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor and also founded a private practice in Bangor.

“I am thrilled to be back in my home state doing what I love – working to ensure access to high-quality, evidence-based services for all Mainers with mental health challenges and substance use disorders,” Pollard said in a statement. “We know that recovery is not only possible, it’s likely when people have the right support. I look forward to working with staff, Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith and partners throughout the state to make sure Maine people have this help.”

Maine, like much of the country, has been devastated by a prolonged opioid crisis that continues to claim hundreds of lives a year. Last year, the state saw 354 drug overdose deaths – nearly one per day – although that was the first year in the past five that deaths decreased from the previous year.

Gov. Janet Mills has made combating the crisis one of her top priorities in her first year in office and in January named longtime hospital lobbyist Gordon Smith as the state’s first ever director of opioid response. Mills also has directed additional funds toward treatment and prevention, including $5.5 million that was redirected from the Fund for Healthy Maine.

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