AUGUSTA — City councilors want to spend up to nearly $100,000 from Augusta’s share of opioid settlement funds to hire a mental health or social worker to respond with police to help people with substance use disorder connect to services.

Councilors hope that will help address the underlying issues that triggered a police response.

The unanimously decision by the council Thursday was made in part in response to demands from downtown merchants and residents asking for help to address problems downtown caused by transient people who they said harass people, try to intimidate them into giving them handouts, and generally make residents, businesses owners and visitors feel unsafe in the downtown area.

Augusta City Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen, seen speaking Oct. 4, 2023, at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta, is a member of Maine Recovery Council, a group tasked with determining how to use the state’s portion of opioid settlement funds. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen is a member of the 15-person Maine Recovery Council group charged with determining how to best use the bulk of the funds received by the state in the settlement to fight the impact of opioid addiction across the state. She said Thursday she hopes the new position “will be able to alleviate some of the stress that we feel downtown.”

“We have allocated a beat cop to downtown and my intention in voting yes on this is to couple that with a social worker. Our police officers are amazing. But they respond to the crisis of the moment,” Gary-Allen said. “The hope is the social worker will be able to partner with them to be able to deal with some of the underlying conditions of those crises.”

City officials anticipate filling such a position will cost between $65,000 and $88,000 in salary and benefits.


Councilors also approved the use of $10,000 of Augusta’s opioid settlement funds, which currently totals around $530,000 in the bank, to be set aside to help people ready to enter substance use disorder treatment and recovery who don’t have the financial means, either cash or insurance or other sources, to pay for it themselves.

That would be modeled on other programs, such as Project Recovery in Augusta, and Operation HOPE in Waterville, which help people ready to enter treatment pay for the cost of treatment itself, or other expenses such as transportation to a treatment facility.

Augusta City Manager Jared Mills. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

“We’ll mirror some of the other successful programs that are out there,” said City Manager Jared Mills, who previously served for several years as the city’s police chief. “When somebody is looking for treatment and recovery and is ready for that, but they don’t have the financial means to pay for that, this money could be used for those folks that are unable to pay.”

Councilors approved of both starting the hiring process for a social or mental health worker and setting aside the $10,000 to help get people into treatment, in a unanimous vote Thursday.

Councilors discussed those ideas last week, during a discussion of how the city should determine how to best use its allotment of some $230 million expected to come to Maine, over the next 18 years in the settlement with pharmaceutical companies that distributed highly addictive opiates. So far Augusta has received about $532,000, Mills said last week.

Councilors agreed last week to form a committee — including people with life experience and expertise with substance use disorder — to make recommendations to councilors how to spend the city’s share of the money meant to help address the ongoing opiate addiction crisis.

That proposal to form a committee was not ready for action Thursday. Councilors said they did not want to wait for the committee to be formed and begin meeting before hiring a social or mental health worker to help connect people suffering from substance use disorder to services that could help them.

Mills said the city would begin the search process to fill the position immediately now that the council order, authorizing the appropriation of up to $88,000 a year for the position, was approved.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel — this is something that is happening more and more across the state, the country,” Mills said. “Where you have somebody responding, basically, rather than a police officer responding to these types of situations, which is much more appropriate.”

Related Headlines

Join the Conversation

Please sign into your account to participate in conversations below. If you do not have an account, you can register or subscribe. Questions? Please see our FAQs.