Tuesday night the Be The Influence coalition, a group of community members and leaders who are working to combat drugs and alcohol use in the area, hosted a parents event discussing the dangers of drug abuse and what can be done to help those suffering from Heroin addiction.
“It’s a very important conversation and we welcome you to the table,” said assistant principal at Windham High School Kelly Deveaux.
Speakers for the night were Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, Heather Drake and Liz Blackwell-Moore from The Opportunity Alliance, who helped begin the Be The Influence movement in Windham and Raymond.
The coalition is made up of a large diverse group of people and is funded by a Federal grant from Drug Free Communities to spread awareness. “If we coordinate our efforts, we might make a difference,” Deveaux said.
“I see in the jail every day the face of drugs,” said Joyce, who described heroin as the “hot button” drug. Drugs are popular because of “what’s cheap and what’s accessible”, he added.
“The people selling heroin to our kids are coming out of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York because they can get $80 more for a gram of heroin. They are coming up to sell poison to our people. They’re not doing heroin themselves,” Joyce said.
We are putting the drug users in jail, but not the drug dealers, which is how law enforcement could stem the tide. It’s a matter of supply and demand. If Maine can do away with the demand, then there’s no one to sell to.
One inmate told a story about his life, while Joyce listened in. Ten years ago he was drug free, but then he met the love of his life – no, not a woman, but heroin.
“The one choice is your final choice,” said Joyce. “Once you use heroin – it owns you.”
Heroin is no longer the back alley drug user with a needle in his arm. Now, it’s individuals who have had surgery, got hooked on pills and up graded to heroin for its accessibility. Drug users love the feeling it gives and always need a little better drugs and a little better high, said Joyce.
“It’s really a public problem and it should be public enemy number one,” Joyce said. In the jail, heroin users are locked up for 28 days. They come in high and then have to detox. They are very sick and could die from the withdrawal. They do not get treatment after they are released and how the drug works in the brain, they go back to their old habits.
One problem all of the speakers saw was the lack of beds and services for addicts who need medical care and a place to detox. Right now there are two dozen people a day who are turned away from beds in Portland.
Blackwell-Moore told a story about a waterfall and a lake and above the waterfall is a river with schools, hospitals and a basketball court. People are coming out of those buildings and falling into the river and going over the waterfall.
The story related to what is happening with heroin today. The net we use to catch those people is Narcan, a substance that can bring people back after an overdose. The lake is treatment and with proper treatment and follow up medical care the success rate is 80 percent, said Drake. Those who receive methadone or suboxone, very tightly controlled substances that help regulate the withdrawal symptoms, are typically the ones who are successful. There are 4,000 methadone clinics in Maine.
“This is something we can all do, not just the police or teachers,” said Drake. Citizens can advocate for more treatment facilities, although treatment requires insurance or ability to pay out of pocket and 44,000 people do not have insurance in Maine, said Drake. People can advocate for MaineCare/ Medicare expansion and advocate for the legislation to allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe suboxone. “We can’t spend all of our time in the lake,” said Drake.
Blackwell-Moore pointed out the research and facts that the younger a person is who tries drugs and alcohol the more likely they are to become addicted to drugs. One in four teens think that abusing prescription drugs is safer than using illegal narcotics.
The drugs completely change the brain during a time of major brain development in teens, she said.
It was also suggested to be a patient advocate to avoid having prescription drugs left over in homes. Ask the provider, do I need this? What are the risks? Are there safer options? What if I do nothing? And what are the costs?
Parents can get unused medication out of their homes at any time with drug disposal locations, like at the Windham Police Department.
Research shows that “young people do better when they’re connected to adults and the community.” Be a caring adult. Be someone teens can talk to. “Young people are less likely to use if they think adults disapprove of them using.” Give youth a consistent message.
“We can all be the influence,” Blackwell-Moore said.
The audience was broken up into small groups for discussion and then encouraged to ask questions of the professionals in the room.
Joyce and Windham Police sergeant Bill Andrew described how heroin can look, but also said it can come in many forms like powered or chunks that look like brown clay. It is also being mixed with Fentanyl which is 100 times more potent than heroin. This is causing more overdoses and more deaths, Joyce said.
“You have one choice and then the drug takes over your body,” Joyce repeated. “One choice.”