The Lisbon Town Council this week approved a partnership between the police department and Tri-County Mental Health Services to provide overdose prevention services through an outreach program.

This will allow a crisis worker to ride with Lisbon police and respond to overdose calls alongside officer or follow up with the person who overdosed within 24 hours to help with referrals and counseling intervention.

Lisbon Police Chief Ryan McGee said Wednesday that police have been called to four drug overdoses in the past week, which shows a clear need for drug addiction resources in town.

The partnership is a result of Gov. Janet Mill’s OPTIONS (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety) initiative announced in October 2020 to combat the surge of overdoses in Maine. The program has already had success in Lewiston, McGee said.

Even after working in Lisbon for 20 years and developing a good rapport with the public, McGee said it is hard to convince someone struggling with substance abuse to go to a hospital or addiction recovery center and ask for help. McGee hopes people will feel more comfortable talking directly to a drug counselor.

It is important to have mental health workers working side-by-side with police and the more who are, “the better it is going to be for Lisbon residents,” McGee said.

It’s a sign that policing is changing, and hopefully, for the better, he said.

Another tool, McGee said, is the Naloxone nasal spray Lisbon police officers began carrying in 2019, which can reverse the effects of an opioid drug overdose. Naloxone was used by police three times in 2019 and four times in 2020. Police haven’t administered Naloxone yet this year.

McGee said Lisbon Police Department had nine overdoses reported in 2020, compared to four overdoses this year already. Lisbon counts overdoses as the number of people that were unconscious and in a critical state.

Maine recorded its worst year for drug overdoses in 2020, with 502 deaths, surpassing the previous high of 417 deaths in 2017, which at the time was considered the height of the opioid crisis, the Portland Press Herald reported.

According to the February overdose report released by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the University of Maine, there had been 45 fatal drug overdoses statewide in January and February of 2021.

The report states that the frequency of fatal overdoses in January and February accord with patterns in 2020. In Androscoggin County, which includes Lisbon, there were 51 overdose deaths in 2020 and 13 overdoses deaths in January and February of 2021.

Catherine Ryder, the Chief Executive Officer of Tri-County Mental Health Services, said drug overdoses are on the rise in Lisbon, which has had nearly as many overdoses so far this year as it had in all of 2020.

The OPTIONS initiative provides one 40-hour-a-week licensed alcohol and drug counselor to law enforcement agencies in each county. She said it gives another layer of support police officers desperately need.

Ryder said this crisis worker is able to go to homes or the emergency department to talk to the person who has had a drug overdose to talk about the addiction recovery resources available.

“We look at every contact as one more opportunity to plant that seed that will hopefully germinate,” Ryder said. “That will hopefully lead to them asking or embracing the opportunity for a recovery journey.”


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