The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary in Falmouth will host a talk on Sunday, Nov. 3, about the need for recovery houses when it comes to the opioid crisis response. Courtesy / St. Mary’s

FALMOUTH — It’s vital for someone recovering from substance use disorder to get better in a home-like environment where they can feel comfortable, safe, supported and, most importantly, normal.

That’s according to Dr. Ron Springel, a former emergency room physician, who’s taken a lead role in Maine’s opioid crisis response efforts.

He’ll be speaking at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary, 43 Foreside Road. The event is free and open to the public and is the fourth in the church’s speakers series addressing the opioid epidemic.

“It’s important to have group recovery houses for people transitioning from structured treatment facilities to everyday living, but there are a lot of questions about the industry. That’s why we invited an expert to talk about oversight, the variety of services (available) and the impact on neighbors,” said Jennifer Gregg, chairwoman of St. Mary’s Outreach Committee.

Springel said this week that he understands people’s concerns when a recovery or sober house opens next door, but “these people often end up being good neighbors and many are law-abiding with no criminal records.”

The town of Falmouth adopted an opioid action plan this past summer and one of the keys to that effort is education and outreach to the wider community, as well as trying to reduce the stigma that often accompanies a substance use disorder.

While Springel said a recovery house is all about “healing and normalizing an addict’s life,” some residents of Falmouth raised objections and voiced concerns when such a home opened on Webber Way this spring.

At the time Town Manager Nathan Poore said there are no zoning rules that prevent recovery houses from opening in residential neighborhoods around town and implementing any such rules could run afoul of federal law and the Fair Housing Act, in particular.

Springel said studies have shown that a home-like environment for those in recovery “works far better than anything else we’ve tried.”

A recovery house, he said, is designed especially to be “a safe, peaceful place where people can be mindful and work on their recovery” and creating such an environment would be too difficult in an industrial or commercialized area.

Gordon Smith, the director of Maine’s new Office of Opioid Response, agreed.

He said this week that recovery houses are one of the five pillars of the state’s effort to address substance use disorder.

“It’s quite clear from the science that those in recovery need a lot of support and that includes housing,” Smith said. “Addiction is very much a disease of isolation and to have the best chance of recovery nothing is more important than having safe housing.”

If those in recovery have to go back to their old neighborhood, their treatment plan often falls apart, he added.

Smith said there are 102 recovery houses operating in Maine, but he would like to see double that number. The state does not regulate recovery houses, but is offering an incentive program to encourage operators to voluntarily become certified under national standards.

“I think what we really need to hammer home is that substance use disorder is a chronic disease and people who suffer from it have truly been to hell and back. That’s why we need to wrap them up in layers of support.”

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