AUGUSTA — City councilors voted recently to accept $263,000 in federal grant funding to start a project aimed at connecting people with substance use disorder with treatment programs, when they are ready for help.

Project Recovery would be modeled after Operation HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention Effort), a program of the Waterville Police Department that has saved lives by providing around-the-clock access to treatment resources, according to officials.

Waterville’s program is based out of the Police Department, in part to help provide access to it after traditional business hours. With that in mind, officials in Augusta had initially planned to base their program out of the Fire Department.

However, concerns about understaffing at the Fire Department — combined with the ongoing difficulty of hiring firefighters and paramedics, and worries the new program could further burden already busy department members — have prompted Augusta officials to look elsewhere. The city is seeking proposals from area service providers for how to implement the program. It is not yet clear when the program would begin.

“Now, the city has the money, and it will be used to get people into treatment,” said At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen, a leader of a city task force working on how to help people escape addiction and substance use disorder. “People will be able to go to wherever it ends up being located, and they’ll be connected with recovery support services. Overall, we’re very excited. The task force has put a lot of work in to get this grant.”

The grant, secured through Maine’s congressional delegation, is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Legislators could designate specific projects for funding in their districts.


The grant is part of more than $136 million in federal funding for Maine projects, and part of $1.6 million in funding coming to Maine to increase substance abuse prevention and treatment services coming from the federal government, according to information released by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office.

“Last year there were approximately 8,000 drug overdoses in our state, and 636 Mainers died — a tragic record,” Collins said in a statement announcing funding for the programs. “By supporting prevention, treatment, and recovery programs, this funding will expand vital assistance to Mainers who are struggling with addiction and help combat the opioid crisis.”

Augusta Mayor Mark O’Brien said no local match is required for the city to receive the one-time funding, which councilors last Thursday voted unanimously to accept.

Gary-Allen said the city might be able to fund the program in future years by using some of the settlement funds it expects to receive in annual payments over the next 18 years. The settlement money is from legal action taken by state and local governments against opioid-providing pharmaceutical companies.

The grant funds could be used to pay staff members to run the program, officials said, and to provide transportation to help people get into substance use disorder treatment programs.

Waterville’s program is available around the clock and seven days a week to anyone seeking help from an intake worker, known in the program as an “angel.”

Waterville’s program is funded by private donations, grants and fundraisers, including concerts and a golf tournament. Other than police Chief Joseph Massey’s involvement and the time of another Waterville officer, who oversees the program, no property tax dollars go to the program.

Waterville officials said recently they are struggling to raise enough funding to continue the program into next year, after having to cancel several fundraisers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Massey spearheaded the launch of Operation HOPE in 2017. The program has reportedly helped put more than 300 Mainers into substance use disorder treatment programs.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story