Lenny Smith is often the first to receive a call from someone seeking treatment at Pine Tree Recovery Center in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The first time a reporter asked Lenny Smith for an interview, he was sitting inside a metal holding cell at the Cumberland County Jail.

It was 1996, and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency had just stopped Smith’s car on Interstate 95. The search of his vehicle turned up packets of heroin he was transporting from Lawrence, Massachusetts. The bust made the news, and Smith remembers the feeling of embarrassment as he realized the world was about to find out.

“My friends expected to bury me,” Smith said. “I think people stopped expecting me to get well.”

Today, the memory elicits a deep laugh from Smith, 59, whose constant humor about such a dark time in his life stands as a benefit of 15 years of sobriety and the perspective it brings. His well of experience has also proven to be a touchstone for the people who contact him at all hours of the day and night, looking to get help for a relative or friend.

As a family outreach worker at Pine Tree Recovery Center in Portland, Smith is among the first to receive the call when someone is ready to get treatment, shepherding clients into the same types of care and support that helped him get well in 2004. The Bishop Street facility has 22 inpatient detox beds, operates intensive outpatient treatment and has a complement of full-time clinicians and counselors.

His candor and compassion, along with a natural comfort talking about some of the toughest times of his life, have made him a lifesaving force for countless people in northern New England who have sought help for substance use disorder.

Smith has worked at Pine Tree since its founding in August 2018 but splits his time with Plymouth House in Plymouth, New Hampshire, which operates a residential 12-step program where Smith began his recovery in 2004. After doing the work to get himself well, Smith stayed on as a caseworker, starting his career in the recovery industry. It was a “no-brainer,” he said.

“I owed it to my family to get and keep a job,” he said.

Part of that job is shuttling around New England to meet families and arrange treatment.

“Addiction is tragic, it’s monotonous,” Smith said. “It’s grueling and frightening, and as ridiculous as an episode of ‘I Love Lucy.’ It’s strange to work in an area where I intersect with people at some intimate places in their lives. But it’s really, really rewarding.”

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