NORWAY — The Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative has opened The HILLS Recovery Center, a community-based resource focused on providing peer support to people with substance use disorder.

Establishing a recovery center is a major milestone following years of work in Oxford Hills in response to the ever-widening addiction epidemic affecting entire communities, compounded by the presence of deadly synthetic opiate fentanyl in opiates and other illicit drugs for the past 10 years and the more recent introduction of the veterinary tranquilizer xylazine.

The HILLS Recovery Center is just the second of its kind in Oxford County, joining the Rumford-based Larry Labonte Recovery Center to the north.

WMARI formed back in 2015 after western Maine was rocked by five fatal fentanyl-related heroin deaths in one weekend. In 2021 it hired its first employee, Kari Taylor, who has made it her mission to destigmatize the disease of substance use disorder and promote community and peer support as critical to achieve recovery.

On Tuesday, WMARI officially opened the doors of its long-planned recovery center, welcoming advocates, people in recovery, and state and federal representatives, who spoke in turn of the importance of more resources to counter the ongoing crisis.

Gordon Smith (right), director of opioid response for the governor’s office, speaks about the impact that the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative has had on the Oxford Hills community, as Gov. Janet Mills (left) and state Sen. Rick Bennett look on. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

In addition to remarks provided by Gov. Janet Mills, state Sen. Rick Bennett, and Gordon Smith, director of opioid response for the governor’s office, representatives for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden also addressed the work and promise of WMARI.


“SUD has reached every corner of this state, every community,” Mills said. “It has robbed us of loved ones, family and friends and diminished our sense of community. Last year there were more than 10,000 overdoses in Maine. Seven hundred and sixteen of those were fatal.

“Thank God we have Narcan in our communities. Thank God we’ve overcome the resistance and judgmentalism and have said that we need Narcan. It saves lives and we need it everywhere possible. Without that, we can’t turn a life around. We have to save the physical life of a person and then have trained helpers to … get them to treatment, the services they need.”

Smith announced that his office is working with Maine’s attorney general to hire 16 new liaisons to law enforcement, based on the success of the pilot program Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone and Safety (OPTIONS), run in Oxford County by outreach clinician Glenn Gordon. Smith acknowledged the importance of Gordon’s work and that of Dr. Lisa Miller of Western Maine Health, who has launched an addiction medicine program with Western Maine Primary Care and Stephens Memorial Hospital.

The most poignant words came from members of WMARI’s board and its recently hired intervention and peer support specialist, Aaron Ryder.

Ryder spoke briefly about how his recovery began and his realization that achieving it is not the same as beating it. After relapsing, Ryder cited his peers in recovery as a key reason he was able to refocus on sobriety, sharing that his daughter recently presented him with his one-year sober chip.

Oxford County sergeant and board member Matthew Baker, one of western Maine’s most recognizable advocates for addiction recovery, also spoke of losing his daughter Ronni — one of the five whose overdose deaths led to the formation of WMARI — and the need to provide every resource possible to fight SUD.


State Sen. Rick Bennett of Oxford speaks at WMARI’s opening ceremony for The HILLS Recovery Center Tuesday. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

And Christina Booth, nurse director of Stephens Memorial Hospital’s emergency department, told those in attendance about her personal loss of loved ones to drug addiction but also of others who entered recovery and now live full and healthy lives.

“The work being done by WMARI, and this recovery center, it actually is hope,” Booth said. “It has had an impact on this community I never thought possible … WMARI’s strategic plan has been massive and daunting. We didn’t know how we would get it all done. And the answer was Kari.”

Booth credited Taylor, who has lived with SUD since she was 20, for her dedication to establishing resources for addiction recovery since becoming WMARI’s director two years ago.

“She was the first to interview and my colleagues called me to ask if we really had to meet any more candidates,” Booth said. “She has a passion, she has the intelligence and she has an amazing ability to organize. To take something that was just an idea — and here we are today.”

Having met the goals of the strategic plan WMARI had that included opening a peer support center, Taylor is focused on maintaining the momentum of the initiative’s work as it sets new goals to support recovery in Oxford County.

“I’m extremely grateful to see all the people here today,” she told the Advertiser Democrat. “It’s a real visual of how this community has been impacted and how important the recovery center is.

“There is still so much to be done. But I feel like the trajectory we are on is a good one. I feel hopeful. A year ago, we didn’t know if all of this was going to happen. Now that is has and we’re here, I am hopeful of what we can do together.”

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