Glenn Simpson of Portland will represent Maine at a national addiction recovery conference next week, in part because of “Pieces of Recovery: The Puzzle Project,” which helps raise awareness about addiction and recovery through art. Courtesy Glenn Simpson

PORTLAND — East End resident Glenn Simpson is hoping what happens in Vegas next week doesn’t stay in Vegas.

Simpson, a licensed social worker and certified drug and alcohol counselor, will represent Maine at the Mobilize Recovery Conference, July 11 and 12 in Las Vegas, and hopes to bring some of what he learns back to Maine to fight drug and alcohol addiction here.

At the conference, Simpson and 49 other recovery professionals will receive training, leadership development and strategic planning to combat addiction in their communities.

Conference organizer Ryan Hampton said Mobilize Recovery is being funded with $50,000 from Facebook’s Community Leadership Program and $50,000 from Serve You Rx. It was one of the 100 projects funded by Facebook and chosen from a field of 10,000 applications from 47 countries.

The goal, Hampton said, is to bring together emerging leaders from all 50 states “to determine what needs to be done locally and at the state level, and how we can support each other to get better outcomes.”

Hampton, in recovery from opiate addiction, said he was impressed with the ways Simpson is bringing the community together and raising awareness about addiction and recovery – particularly Simpson’s work last September at “Portland Die-In,” where 57 actors “died” on the steps of City Hall to represent the 57 individuals who died from drug poisoning in 2017.

Hampton also touted Simpson’s work with “Piece of Recovery: A Puzzle Project.”

Simpson, who created the project, invited those in the recovery community to create 354 large puzzle pieces focused on what recovery means to them. The 354 pieces, which stretch 80 feet when connected, represent the 354 drug poisoning deaths in Maine in 2018. It will be displayed at The Opiate Crisis Summit July 15 at the Augusta Civic Center and in Monument Square as part of the July 5 First Friday Art Walk.

The Pieces of Recovery puzzle is never assembled the same way twice. The full puzzle will be on display July 5 in Portland’s Monument Square during First Friday Art Walk. File

“Here was an emerging leader that we need to support and connect with other leaders throughout the country,” Hampton said.

What makes Simpson unique, Hampton said, is he sees addiction and recovery both from the perspective of an activist, but also that of a social worker.

Simpson, who earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of New England in December, is a licensed social worker at Enso Recovery Services in Westbrook and the program director for Dignity for Opiate Users in Portland.

“We are so excited to have Glenn join us,” Hampton said. “I think he has a lot to offer.”

Simpson, who has been in recovery since 2000 and has avoided drugs and alcohol since 2014, said he was inspired to apply for the conference because it mirrored much of what he was trying to do locally. He said his goal is to use art to connect those in the recovery community with those in positions of power to make policy changes.

This summer, Simpson will be working on a new art initiative to raise awareness: The Shadow Project. He said it will involve the entire state and “be a way to bring the community together and shine a bright light on the lives we are losing to a preventative and treatable disease.”

He said he likes to find ways to bring the community together.

“If we are going to push back against the stigma of substance use disorder, the only way to do that is to come together and tell our stories,” Simpson said.  “I believe the opposite of addition is connection.”

Hampton said the hope is to scale the conference for the local level, too, so “people like Glenn can lead training like this and recognize emerging leaders in their communities.”

To truly solve the problem of addiction treatment and recovery, Hampton said, the traditional top-down approach has to change.

“People are making recommendations from the top hoping it will trickle down,” he said. “We are flipping that model on its head.”

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