BELFAST – People all over Maine are dying from drug overdoses, including some in Waldo County.
That’s why Belfast area law enforcement and regional groups have joined together to battle the state’s opioid epidemic.
“We’ve really officially brought six agencies, six groups together and we’ve declared war on the opiate crisis here in Waldo County,” said Sheriff Jeff Trafton of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office.
The Waldo County Recovery Committee is made up of members of the sheriff’s office, Volunteers of America, Restorative Justice Project of the Mid-Coast, Searsport Community Health Center, Greater Bay Area Ministerium, and Maine Adult Community Corrections.
In 2017, drug use took the lives of 418 Mainers in overdose poisonings, and most of the deaths involved opioids.
About a decade ago, local doctors began to see the impacts of opioid use.
“It became quite clear that the opioid epidemic was impacting our patients greatly. Tremendously,” said Dr. Timothy Hughes, who has been a Belfast family doctor for 37 years.
And as more and more Mainers became drug users, some committed crimes to feed their addiction.
“The key thing is that so many people behind bars have substance use problems and they’re not being addressed,” Hughes said.
The Waldo County Recovery Committee is trying to change that by redirecting people who are using drugs into recovery programs instead of jail. The committee is modeled after a similar program in Lincoln County, and the Waldo County District Attorney Jonathan Liberman said he’s going to introduce the idea in Knox County.
“We can really repair what’s happened and get people into treatment verses just having them continue to engage in the criminal justice system,” said Carrie Sullivan, the executive director for the Restorative Justice Project of the Mid-Coast. “And also it gives us the opportunity to repair any harm people in the community may have experienced because of someone’s substance use. We want to see a more holistic approach.”
The committee will work to reduce the stigma of drug use and recovery, improve access to treatments and provide support to users, those in recovery, their families and the community.
“I think with all the partners we have in the room today, we can make a difference — we can make a real difference,” said Trafton.