In the first quarter of 2020 there were 127 drug overdose deaths in Maine. That represents a 23 percent increase from the last quarter of 2019. This upward trend is expected to continue, with an estimated 259 people projected to die from drug overdoses during the first half of the year.
A recent report released by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine found that opioids were responsible for 82 percent of those overdose deaths. This includes both opioids purchased on the streets as well as those prescribed legally by a doctor. In many instances, the deceased were found to have both in their system.
In good times, Mainers struggle to access the resources needed to combat addiction. A person entering recovery typically requires immediate services to be successful. From a lack of in-patient services to affordable healthcare, the challenges have been long documented. For those already active in the recovery community and who struggle daily, group sessions such as those practiced by Alcoholics Anonymous and other organized recovery programs offer a lifeline.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has upended these services and put restrictions on group meetings and counseling that are vital to continued success. Around the state, many AA meetings have gone dark and counseling services, such as those offered by Groups Recover Together in Ellsworth, had to temporarily suspend the very thing that makes its business successful: groups of people talking to each other in person.
The social isolation inherent with shelter-in-place mandates has made it even more challenging. Peer support and systems of accountability have long helped addicts recover. As those services stall, there is a chance that people will fall through the cracks.
Those who provide recovery services need to take a long look at all the resources available to them and figure out how to transition to a recovery model that largely fits the digital world. Some small steps are being made across the country and even in Maine. Like other meetings that are taking to Zoom or other conferencing platforms, the recovery community is also trying to meet its clients where they are—home and alone. While this is not an ideal model for service delivery, it is the best we have for now. However, it also has problems that need to be worked out.
In a state where internet connection can be mediocre at best, we need to make sure that those who need services can receive them in whatever form they are available. We must look at the needs of those in recovery, especially in the early stages, and make sure individuals have everything they need to actively participate in their own recovery.