Three people overdosed in the last 30 days. Two of them died and one will have lifelong effects. They were all connected to Falmouth in some way.

That’s how Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore introduced a public forum last week on addiction and opioid misuse.

The drug crisis has reached epic proportions in the state – 376 died in 2018 from drug misuse – and it’s serious even in the suburbs. However, there is such a stigma attached to addiction and drug use that many who have the disorder and their families are afraid to seek help.

A perfect example: only a few of the 50 or so attendees at the town’s event were parents of Falmouth school children, despite extensive publicity and a focus on critical issues such as the roots of substance use disorder, effective ways to prevent it, and services that help with recovery.

Since a predilection to addiction often starts with adverse childhood experiences and drug use, the Falmouth results of the 2017 Maine Health Youth survey were disturbing:

• One in four Falmouth high school students used alcohol in the last 30 days.

• One in five used marijuana in the last 30 days.

• One in four met criteria for depression.

• One in eight had seriously considered suicide in the past year.

The public forum was part of an ongoing pilot project in greater Portland to address the drug problem through education of students and staff in the schools, town employees and the general public. The organizers also asked for suggestions of how the community could respond.

Parishioners at the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Falmouth had already heard the call, inspired by the people they work with at Milestone Recovery in Old Orchard Beach. Rather than view substance use as a moral failing, they believe people with the disorder should be treated with compassion. It is the stigma that makes drug use much more difficult to overcome.

Saint Mary’s has planned a series of educational programs for the public called “Responding to the Opioid Crisis: Education, Compassion and Community.” The programs will be held at the church at 43 Foreside Road.

The first, “Paths that Created It, Paths that Heal,” will be Sunday, March 24, from 4-6 p.m. Besides facts about the sources of the crisis and the physical consequences of addiction, there will be testimonials, one from a woman in recovery and another from Police Chief John Kilbride, who watched a family member struggle with addiction.

Besides education, both projects hope to inspire the community to eliminate barriers for those in recovery by providing safe housing, steady employment, medical insurance, and treatment with medication.

This drug crisis affects all of us in some way. I witnessed the life of a talented carpenter unravel when he became addicted to painkillers. After ignoring two motor vehicle violations and crashing his truck, he was sent to prison for six months. He lost his wife, his truck and his livelihood. I wish I had been able to help him.

Falmouth resident Bonny Rodden is a parishioner at the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary.

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