I should be thrilled. I should be relieved. Because after two years in which Maine experienced record numbers of overdose deaths, beginning in January, there will be changes in our opioid policy!

Access to prescription opioids will be more limited than ever, the paperwork to prescribe them will be even more arduous than before, and, if Joe Lawlor’s recent article is to be believed, this shift will even be accompanied by the public shaming of physicians specializing in pain management.

A glorious new dawn awaits! Lives saved! Medications demonized! And my business will be booming, because what I do all day is help people in Maine taper off opioids.

I’ve treated opioid addiction in rural Maine, in cities and in suburbs. I’ve worked in both inpatient and outpatient detox centers and two methadone clinics, and I’m medical director at a recovery center that does intensive outpatient therapy in three Maine locations. I also know a number of retired drug dealers.

So why am I experiencing not joy and gratitude, but anger and apprehension? Because yet again, our desire to “do something!” has circumvented actual evidence-based intervention and created new monsters.

Prohibition didn’t create more sober people, but it did lead to more criminal activity. You know what did create more sober people? The presence of peer support and the advent of recovery communities. You know what creates even more sober people? Connection with comprehensive, integrated treatment programs.


So where’s the treatment? As Maine congratulates itself for cracking down on opioids, the Department of Health and Human Services is cutting funding for methadone treatment and creating roadblocks to access. Counselors can no longer afford to accept MaineCare, competent pain management is getting witch-hunted, and patients with real pain syndromes are turning to heroin.

Maybe it’s time we stop looking for people to blame and start looking for people to help.

Merideth Norris


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