Monday, 09 July 2018 15:55

USDA Rural Development hold opioid round table in Bangor Featured

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BANGOR - Folks from USDA Rural Development came to Maine for a round table with Sen. Angus King, Rep. Bruce Poliquin and others about the state's opioid epidemic.

"The conversation today in Maine is one of five rural round tables that we've been holding around the country to look at the impact the opioid epidemic is having on rural America, and more importantly what some of the challenges are in meeting the needs of communities being impacted and seeing how we can be a strong partner to local leaders," said Anne Hazlett, assistant to the Secretary of Rural Development.

The number of drug-related deaths in Maine has increased steadily since 2000, when there were only 60 overdose deaths. That number jumped to 418 last year, and most of the deaths involved opioids.

That is why members of USDA Rural Development are in Maine. They also held information gathering sessions in Pennsylvania, Utah, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

"Maine is a part of this country that has been impacted by this issue for some time," Hazlett said. "And I think there is some unique dynamics in the state - having a lot of communities that are isolated and remote. You also have a workforce and an economy that is heavily dependant on physical labor and so wanted to come here and learn from people working on the ground in this battle for some time."

Poliquin, who lost a brother to drug addiction, said rural Maine needs access to resources.

"Urban American is very different than rural," Poliquin said. "One of the differences is that we all know everybody. So if you live in a small town in Maine or Nebraska, one of the issues you have to deal with if you have a loved one who is addicted, is that you are embarrassed."

"It's more difficult in rural America because your neighbors now know you have a family problem," he added later at the conference, which was hosted by Husson University.

Adding things like high-speed internet, which allows someone to search for resources unanimously, is one example of something that can help and it's something Rural Development can assist with.

"You are more likely to look for help if you are not embarrassing yourself or other family members," Poliquin said. "And sometimes you can do that by accessing data."

Getting people back on their feet with things like work place development has been shown to work, Hazlett said.

"The most important thing is: What's working in let's say Ellsworth,or Milo or Dover-Foxcroft and if we do find models that work, how can we replicate them across the state," said Sen. Angus King, (I)-Maine.

Both lawmakers said border protection is needed to prevent the influx of poisonous drugs. King said he got upset when he went to Florida and learned only 25 percent of the known drug shipments coming into the country by sea are stopped.

"We don't have enough ships and enough people down there to stop them," King said. "That's something that we've got to turn around because that is part of it."

A local sheriff who sat on the panel said stopping people from taking their first painkiller or trying illegal drugs for the first time should be another goal.

"Prevent is key," said Troy Morton, Penobscot County Sheriff. "That is the first thing we have to do. To make sure we put our effects into prevention."