Pubdate: Fri, 05 Feb 2016
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2016 Bangor Daily News Inc.


Rutland, Vermont, unwittingly became the poster child for America's 
drug epidemic several years ago. The national attention and a sense 
that their city had bottomed out galvanized local residents and 
leaders to fight back. They formed committees, made lists of 
recommendations and, most important, set goals. Project Vision hasn't 
eradicated heroin from Rutland, but it offers a "take back our 
community" template other communities can model.

In Bangor, like Rutland, groups of concerned citizens have been 
meeting for years to address addiction in the area. A working group, 
created by the Bangor City Council in 2014, developed a list of 
specific, achievable recommendations. The Bangor Community Health 
Leadership Board, which helped coordinate a community forum in 2014 
where the federal drug czar, Michael Botticelli, spoke of the need 
for treatment to help opiate addicts, is focusing on five of them. It 
has developed pain medicine prescribing protocols for use by local 
medical facilities. It pushed for a new local detox facility, which 
is funded in the drug legislation passed last month by the 
Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage. It is seeking 
ways to make the anti-overdose drug Narcan more widely available. The 
group also worked with local lawmakers to draft legislation aimed at 
making treatment more widely available and effective.

Now the group aims to spread its message about the need for treatment 
and acceptance of people with addictions - especially those in 
recovery - to the community as a whole. Community buy-in is an 
important element of the Rutland effort. So is the coordination of 
public health, social service and law enforcement responses to the 
addiction epidemic. A supportive governor and state government 
agencies also boost Rutland's work. On the other hand, many of the 
policy changes Bangor's groups have advocated, such as more 
widespread use of Narcan and an increase in medication-assisted 
treatment - along with an expansion of Medicaid to extend health 
insurance to poor Mainers - have met with opposition by LePage.

Project Vision, the group overseeing Rutland's rehabilitation, is 
headquartered in the police department, and staff from numerous 
social service agencies work there as well. This co-location ensures 
that local residents struggling with addiction - or other 
co-occurring problems such as poverty, unemployment and mental 
illness - receive the services and support they need. The police 
arrest drug dealers but also recognize that directing addicts to 
treatment will be effective in reducing drug use.

"You can't separate child abuse, domestic violence and opiate abuse, 
because in many situations, it all resides in the same house," 
Rutland police Chief James Baker told The New York Times in 2014. 
"Now we'll set up an intervention, not just wait for something to happen."

His department also used data and mapping to zero-in on problem areas 
in the city of 17,000. They identified a 10-block problem area that 
was responsible for nearly three-quarters of police calls. Within 
this area, many former single-family homes have been divided up into 
apartments, which easily lend themselves to drug dealing, Baker said.

Much like LePage, Baker speaks of men from New York bringing heroin 
to Vermont to sell it for five times what they paid for it - and 
sleeping with local women, who get food and rent assistance. 
Arresting the dealers is part of the solution, but addicts who want 
help get it. Baker notes that a drug conviction can prevent an addict 
in recovery from getting a job, so his department directs addicts to 
help rather than putting them in jail. After years of resistance, the 
city opened a methadone clinic, which now serves 400 clients.

Removing problem properties, many of which are owned by absentee 
landlords, is another priority. Project Vision aims to reduce the 
number of blighted properties within the target area by half. The 
group has purchased a handful of properties. Some will be demolished, 
but the group hopes nonprofits will rehabilitate others that will be 
sold to owners who will live in them.

There are small successes. Theft and burglary rates are down as are 
noise and disorderly complaints. Three blighted properties are being 
rehabilitated. There is no evidence yet that drug use has been reduced.

Like Project Vision in Rutland, Bangor's drug addiction groups have 
done commendable work and laid the groundwork for continued efforts 
to reduce substance use and address its consequences - even in the 
face of significant state-level obstacles.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom