Government should always be looking at how it can help and be part of the solution. While county government has limited options when it comes to acting beyond the typically smaller scope of our responsibilities, the $40 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) package provided to York County by the federal government enables us to think big and act locally.
Last year, I voted to commit $27.5 million of these funds to be split evenly between our planned first responder training facility and substance use recovery treatment center. Both will help save lives, but the recovery center will be a literal lifeline for so many York County residents in need of treatment.
For most of 2023, January through November, 559 Mainers died of a suspected or confirmed drug overdose with 61 deaths in York County alone. This is according to Maine’s monthly overdose report. That’s 61 of our neighbors, friends, and family members. That’s 61 too many. There were 9,135 nonfatal overdoses across the state, with 955 in York County, though that number is likely a lot higher given so many go unreported.
The ravages of the opioid epidemic, especially these past few years, is the reason why building a new 58-bed recovery center on county land is so critically important and urgent for our area. We have a need, and the county can lead the way in reducing the stigma attached to seeking treatment and put our neighbors on a path towards hope and healing. Once complete, York County will be the first county in Maine to operate such a recovery program. The state has called our project a ‘game-changer’.
We know this can be successful, because of what we’ve been doing. York County has already been leading the way on this front, by helping to treat those in our county jail with substance use disorders. The Layman Way Recovery Center is a 24-bed addiction treatment program for those in our criminal justice system who are subjected to long periods of pretrial incarceration at our jail. It truly represents giving people a chance at rehabilitation by getting the support they need to heal to turn their lives around.
While this has centered around meeting the need within our jail, this new recovery project aims to serve the wider population to meet the need for these types of services in our area. The goal is to provide a full continuum of care including detox beds, short-term and long-term recovery programs, outpatient programs and case management. By having everything accessible from one location and entity, it helps reduce the barriers to accessing needed services.
There will also be observation beds to finally have a place to bring individuals to evaluate what level of care people actually need. This has been a big problem for service providers and public safety officials. Where do you take folks who signal an interest in treatment? When individuals want help, help needs to be there at that moment. That is your window to start the recovery process. When doors are literally shut and no help is available, that can increase the risk of an overdose.
There are other programs that will complement this recovery center that aim to educate and empower individuals to use Narcan, a lifesaving drug that prevents overdoses. Sweetser has a contract with the state for one such program called OPTIONS (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone, and Safety). York County has an OPTIONS liaison that presents to various civic groups and community venues to raise awareness, partner with law enforcement, and provide critical resources to residents.
The recovery center is currently making its way through the local planning board process. For those in our county seat of Alfred, it’s easy to say not in my backyard, but substance use is an addiction, a form of mental disorder that can affect anyone. Your friend, neighbor, family member, even yourself. It knows no socio-economic status. If we don’t step up, more people will die. If we don’t lead on this then who will?
All eyes are on York County to be the example for the entire state as we try to implement this innovative government-led initiative to save lives.
Justin Chenette is a York County Commissioner and serves on the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission, Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee, Age Friendly Saco board, and provides college scholarships through his foundation. He is the author of ‘The Great Whoopie Pie Debate: A Kids’ Guide to the Maine Legislature.” Get county updates and office hours at CommissionerChenette.com and contact him at email@example.com.