FALMOUTH — Despite its reputation as an upscale community with one of the state’s better educational systems, Falmouth has not been immune from the opioid addiction crisis that has been rampaging through Maine and the nation.

A panel of experts met last week at Falmouth Elementary School to discuss ways the town could increase public understanding of the crisis and develop strategies for combating the epidemic.

There were a projected 376 drug-related overdose deaths in Maine in 2018, according to a report released last month by Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey. The state’s projection said 282 drug-related fatalities occurred between January and September 2018, and the Attorney General’s Office does not yet have a final total for the year.

Organized by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, the Falmouth forum was the pilot meeting in a regional effort aimed at providing municipal leaders with the knowledge and support they will need to address the opioid misuse problem in their communities.

“This is one of those areas where we need all the help we can get,” Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore told an audience of about 50 people. “In the past 30 days I know of three people who have overdosed, including two who died. They were all from Falmouth.”

Cities and towns have an important role to play in addressing the opioid misuse problem that has Maine in its grip, according to the Greater Portland Council of Governments. Its “Communities Addressing Opioid Misuse” project seeks to expand municipal leaders’ understanding of the root causes of opioid addiction and to engage those leaders as “champions for comprehensive, evidence-based solutions in their communities.”

Zoe Miller, senior project manager and public health specialist for GPCOG, said more forums are in the planning stages and will likely be held in some or all of the seven cities and towns that make up the organization’s regional metro coalition. Those towns include: Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland and Westbrook.

Public health consultant Liz Blackwell-Moore, who moderated the forum, told the audience that opioid addiction is most often connected to adverse childhood experiences, a family history of addiction, and childhood use of substances such as alcohol, nicotine and marijuana.

Blackwell-Moore said that one in four Falmouth High School students who were surveyed admitted to using alcohol in the past 30 days, while one in five admitted to using marijuana.

She said Falmouth police and emergency services workers saved the lives of seven overdose victims in 2018 by administering Narcan.

Police Chief John Kilbride, one of five expert panelists, said that teen vaping – the inhalation of e-cigarettes – is a major public health concern for his officers. Vaping can lead to nicotine dependency and potentially smoking tobacco products.

“Vaping is a huge issue right now and is very challenging for our officers to enforce,” Kilbride said.

Another panelist, Dr. Kristen Silvia of Maine Medical Partners, said her office has started providing primary care physicians with the medications they will need to help their patients overcome their addiction to opioids.

But Silvia said treatment barriers still exist. Those include treating patients who do not have health insurance coverage, and finding patients who are in recovery a safe and sober place to live.

She said Falmouth and other communities need to start recognizing that addiction is a chronic brain disease that addicts need help overcoming.

Silvia and several other panelists suggested that employers need to understand the root causes of addiction and to offer a helping hand, whether it be hiring a recovering addict with a criminal record or just helping the person organize his or her life.

“Recovery is not just about putting down alcohol or drugs. It’s about learning to live a whole new way,” said Leslie Clark, director of the Portland Recovery Community Center.

The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary in Falmouth will host an opioid crisis panel presentation from 4-6 p.m. Sunday. Kilbride and Robert Fowler, executive director of Milestone Recovery, will be the guest speakers.


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