Scarborough Social Services Navigator Lauren Dembski-Martin and Police Chief Mark Holmquist believe Operation HOPE can be taken to a regional and, someday, statewide scale. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

An acclaimed Scarborough Police Department program that has helped over 1,000 people find treatment for substance misuse since 2015 will come to a halt next month, but those at the forefront hope it will resume with a greater impact.

The program, Operation Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort, or Operation HOPE, places people in treatment across the state, from detox centers and intensive residential rehabs to finding them rooms at sober houses in the area. Those seeking help through the program face no legal charges related to their substance use.

Hitting the milestone of placing 1,000 clients in treatment, which the police department announced Monday, is “exciting, but it’s also heartbreaking,” said Lauren Dembski-Martin, Scarborough’s social services navigator.

“We’re excited that we’ve been able to help that many people on their journey to recovery,” she told The Forecaster. “With that said, I think it highlights the number of folks within the state of Maine that are seeking substance use treatment.”

While the majority of clients come from Cumberland County, Operation HOPE has helped people from every corner of the state.

“I think there’s only one county that we hadn’t had a participant from in the last year,” Dembski-Martin said.


The reach of the program, however, has grown to the point that one police department can’t effectively implement it.

“Right now, we don’t have the capacity to continue to take on this ever-growing program,” Dembski-Martin said.

The Scarborough Police Department announced earlier this month that Operation HOPE will be put “on pause” as of March 1.

Operation HOPE is run in partnership with the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, or PAARI. The PAARI volunteer for the program will be leaving at the end of this month and the department’s contract with PAARI ends shortly after.

Dembski-Martin and Police Chief Mark Holmquist say it’s the right time to pass the baton.

“Our hope is that the county will really put something into effect similar to the Operation HOPE program, if not still calling it Operation HOPE, but that it really becomes a county initiative,” Dembski-Martin said.


While he hopes Operation HOPE ultimately will be implemented at the state level someday, Holmquist said his department has been “having ongoing discussions” with stakeholders in Cumberland County about the program since he became chief in December 2021. The end of the department’s involvement provides an opportune time for one or more organizations with a regional presence to take it over, he said.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface of the amount of people that we could potentially impact if this was taken at a broader approach,” Holmquist said.

Portland Recovery Community Center has partnered with Operation HOPE since the program’s inception in 2015 as a response to the growing opioid epidemic. In 2022, there were 10,110 overdoses reported in Maine, including 716 suspected or confirmed deaths, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. In December alone, 928 people overdosed, with 75 suspected or confirmed deaths.

“This is a really important program that has saved so many lives,” said PRCC Executive Director Leslie Clark.

From 2015, up until the pandemic in 2020, Operation HOPE was based at the Scarborough police station.

“It has really grown strong community relationships with law enforcement,” Clark said.


The program has helped law enforcement understand that addiction is a disease that requires treatment, she said, and it has helped those seeking recovery to view police as someone who can help them rather than arrest them for drug use.

As the pandemic subsided, Operation HOPE stationed their volunteer at PRCC’s facilities at 102 Bishop St. in Portland. Originally, PRCC volunteers used to travel to Scarborough to meet with clients. Now, clients can meet with PRCC personnel right after intake if they are in need of immediate assistance.

“They’re better suited to take in folks that are in desperate need,” Holmquist said.

The Portland location also makes the program accessible for more people, another indication that the program is ready for a broader push, Clark said.

“Operation HOPE has served people from all over the state, so it has been beyond, I think, what the Scarborough Police Department ever could have imagined, but it has also really stepped up to play such an important role,” Clark said. “The Scarborough Police Department is ready to let this go and have another organization, or multiple organizations, pick it up.”

In the first half of February, Operation HOPE placed 80 people, Dembski-Martin said.


“I think we’re so excited that we started this in 2015, but it has just grown much bigger than Scarborough PD,” she said. “I think that it’s also really exciting in terms of what can blossom from this.”

Operation HOPE will continue to operate through Feb. 28, Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Portland Recovery Community Center at 102 Bishop St. in Portland. As of March 1, people are encouraged to work directly with PRCC.

“PRCC will continue to help people access resources to the best of our ability,” Clark said.

In the case of an emergency, call 911. Those seeking treatment for substance use can call PRCC at 207-533-2575.

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