To the Editor: A move that can’t wait 

To the Editor: 

In 2020, a total of 502 Mainers died from overdoses. 

While an effective vaccine may have the ability to turn around the COVID-19 pandemic, no such vaccine exists for substance use disorder (SUD), one of the most pervasive and stigmatized public health issues facing our state and nation. Five hundred and two represents a 25 percent increase over Maine drug overdose deaths in 2019. COVID-19 is undoubtedly at play here: in particular, the effect of social isolation, which can contribute to riskier and higher rates of substance use. 

As a master’s level social work student, I have learned that individual well-being is largely based on one’s social environment. Something that is overwhelmingly absent for individuals affected by SUD is safe community space to supplement psychosocial and medical interventions. 

That is beginning to change in Maine, where 13 peer-led recovery community organizations (RCOs) now exist. Peer-based recovery interventions are considered evidence-based because they have reliably been demonstrated to have positive effects on recovery outcomes. Maine’s RCOs — located in nine of Maine’s 16 counties — have implemented such interventions, including recovery coaching, telephone recovery services and peer-led mutual-aid groups. In 2020 alone, Maine’s RCOs held a combined 6,837 peer-led activities with 55,067 individuals in attendance, even amidst the ongoing pandemic. 

Sen. Chloe Maxmin of Lincoln has sponsored a new bill, LD 488, to fund the creation of RCOs in the seven counties where they currently do not exist. This includes our own Hancock County. 

With the state facing a budget crisis, it is a tough year to ask for funding. And yet, unaddressed SUD has an enormous cost to our state, both in terms of lives lost and in terms of emergency medical care, incarceration costs, work productivity and child welfare. It is more important now than ever that we fund the evidence-based responses that work, including RCOs, to ensure that people in recovery have access to connection and healing in the wake of such a hard year. 

Please join me in urging Sen. Louie Luchini and our local representatives to do everything they can to ensure that Hancock County will receive this much needed funding. We cannot wait. 

Sarah Juster 

East Blue Hill 

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