As this paper recently reported, Maine’s opioid crisis remains a public health crisis, with drug overdose deaths accounting for 282 fatalities in the first three quarters of 2018.

As Kennebunk’s police chief, I have seen firsthand the importance of treating the opioid epidemic not as a criminal justice issue, but as one of public health. It is not just my proximity to sufferers of substance use disorders that makes me care about this deeply. I am concerned about the way we approach addiction, and how this affects our ability to take collective action.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse rates Maine as one of the 10 states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. While Gov. Mills’ recent commitment of $1.6 million to help combat the opioid crisis in Maine is a step in the right direction, our federal, state and local governments cannot fight this epidemic alone.

As a member of Rotary, I have seen how an international service organization can make an impact at the local level. While reducing the global polio caseload by 99.9 percent since 1988, Rotary and its partners learned how to respond to the needs of communities and parents who were resistant to accepting an effective vaccine.

Rotary is already taking action by offering trainings on how to recognize and respond to opioid overdoses as well as by working with community partners to help train recovery coaches who assist users in seeking help.

I believe our attitude in Maine must be one of engagement, not stigmatization, if we are to best support those with substance use disorders. We must work together to convince the skeptics in the community why they should help and show them how they can help.

I urge readers to join our efforts as we build the trust necessary to make a positive difference in communities across Maine.

Robert F. MacKenzie

chief of police

Kennebunk