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Statewide initiative provides more options for substance use recovery

The Options program is connecting substance use counselors with people struggling with addiction in Maine

RUMFORD, Maine — While many aspects of society are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle with substance use disorder rages on for thousands of Mainers.

While experts say the ongoing isolation, lack of access to treatment, and stigma are fueling the crisis, a statewide initiative is helping break down barriers to recovery and save lives.

Working out of an office inside Oxford County Mental Health Services, Glenn Gordon checks messages and looks over his supply of overdose-reversing medication naloxone.

Gordon is a certified alcohol and drug counselor for the Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach Naloxone and Safety, or Options program. He is the first person to get a call from law enforcement, following an overdose or another crisis in Oxford County. Gordon talks with patients and passes out packets with information on recovery and mental health services, housing, and job programs. In some cases, people aren't ready for treatment.

"We don't judge you. There is no stigma here. We're here when you are ready. This is about you, not about us," Gordon said.

Glenn knows the struggle to get sober well. He started using drugs and alcohol as a teenager. After spending time in jail he got clean with the help of a 12-step program. He relapsed 17 and a half years later.

"I ended up homeless, I didn't have a place to live, I lost my job," Gordon said.

Now in active recovery himself, Gordon has about 120 people on his caseload. As part of a statewide initiative launched earlier this year, there are outreach counselors in nearly all 16 counties. 

Oxford county has had more than a dozen overdose deaths this year. Authorities say a spike in the use of dangerous drugs including fentanyl, isolation, and lack of treatment options during the pandemic is playing a role. 

Rumford Police Chief Tony Milligan said before having an Options liaison, there was no follow-up with patients in crisis.

"Somebody we can call, who is qualified who knows how to help these people, not just in this community but throughout the state we never had access to," Chief Milligan said.

Rural hospitals like Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway can refer patients for mental health treatment, methadone-assisted therapy, and other services. But many are falling through the cracks because the closest in-patient detox centers are located in Lewiston and Portland. Christina Booth is the Nurse Director for Emergency Services at Stephens Memorial. She said nurses pass out the Options packets and Glenn connecting with patients for follow-up services is filling a critical need.  

"After they had done the critical detox, he was able to get them into a recovery program," Booth said.

Gordon also refers patients in crisis to recovery coaches, like Kari Taylor. Taylor relapsed into drug and alcohol use four years ago after struggling with addiction as a young adult. As the project coordinator for Project SaveMe for the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative, she is recruiting people in recovery to support others who need help.   

"One of the best ways to hang on to your recovery is to help other people, so the act of reaching out and helping others who are struggling, is an amazing feeling," Taylor said.

if you are someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, you can call 211 to get help. 

For more information and referrals to a number of programs from outpatient treatment facilities to hospitalization options in Maine, click here.  

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