FALMOUTH — Facing an increase in opioid-related overdoses and deaths, the town is taking a community approach to the crisis.

St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church on Foreside Road is launching a discussion series called “Responding to Maine’s Opioid Crisis: Education, Compassion and Community” at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 24, following a second town public forum held last week on opioids and substance use disorder. 

Through the series, the church is hoping it can show that people with substance use disorder and their families should be treated with “compassion rather than judgment,” church member Bonny Rodden said.

“Opioid addiction is an illness, not a moral failing, and we need to de-stigmatize it to address the terrible cost to families even (here) in Falmouth,” she said. “The truth is that most of us know someone suffering from the disorder or a family that’s being ripped apart.”

“It’s all around us (and) we need to find courage in our hearts to face this disease with honesty and compassion,” Rodden added.

Police Chief John Kilbride agreed, saying community dialogue “is all-important to address this crisis.” In particular, he said residents need to know that the Police Department is dedicated to educating, assisting with and combating the problem.

Kilbride is also open about how substance use disorder has impacted him personally. “I have a family member and friends affected by this disease,” he said. “It’s devastating to watch your loved one consumed and controlled by this illness.”

In his view, Kilbride said the disease can be best combated through “love, forgiveness, honesty and a community welcoming their struggles and not stigmatizing their fight back into a productive life.”

Opioid misuse is costing the country $78.5 billion a year, including the price of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, every day more than 130 people in the U.S. die after overdosing on opioids, the National Institute on Drug Abuse website states, adding “this issue has become a public health crisis with devastating consequences.”

In Falmouth alone, Kilbride said there’s been one recent overdose death – the second in the past three years – and in 2018 police were involved in four overdoses where they administered Narcan to save the person’s life.

What’s most important for people to understand, he said, is “this crisis has no boundaries.”

That’s why most of “our focus has been in educating our youth” and encouraging “frequent dialogue and (providing) the facts, along with coping skills and setting a good example.”

At St. Mary the Virgin, Rodden said the church’s goal with the opioid series is to help people become better educated about opioid misuse, including the factors that lead people to use drugs, the impact on brain chemistry and the steps toward recovery.

She said everyone is welcome to attend the series, which includes other presentations planned for April and June. But, in particular, Rodden hopes parents, grandparents, business people and health professionals will all see it’s important they take part.

“If we’re going to reduce deaths, we need parents to be engaged with their children. We need business people to hire people in recovery (and) we need neighbors to be tolerant of group homes that provide a safe haven to people in recovery,” Rodden said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Falmouth Police Chief John Kilbride will be one of the featured speakers when St. Mary the Virgin church on Foreside Road begins a series of discussions Sunday, March 24, in response to the opioid crisis.