Friday, May 17, 2019

Maine’s future and the opiate crisis

Rotarians Ingo Hartig, Goerge Bartlett, Mark Morris and
Peter Garland
By Craig Bailey

On Thursday March 9, Windham Middle School’s seventh-grade students hosted an event to share the outcome of their project: Taking Back Maine’s Future: Ending the Opiate Crisis. In attendance were parents, children, law enforcement, Rotary Club members and Senator Bill Diamond.

With a $1,200 donation from the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, the students were able to include the DeLorean replica as it was seen in the 1980s film, “Back to the Future”. The project is the brainchild of RSU14 school personnel Doug Elder, Lee Leroy, AJ Ruth and Gwen Roberts and required students to travel through time, via research and evaluation of current data and statistics, bringing newspaper articles back from the future: some from the bright promising future where Maine has defeated the epidemic. Others from a dark and dangerous future where the epidemic persists. Elder opened the school cafeteria doors the public was welcomed to visit both of these possible futures. One side of the cafeteria was dark, with litter strewn about, mock drugs and syringes on tables along with would-be news articles sharing the state of affairs if the epidemic goes unchecked. The students clearly demonstrated their concern and what the future could hold.

Students shared their concerns and the results of what they learned from the project. Maggie Whiting stated, “Opiates are a real problem. If this issue is not solved, Maine could go very wrong due to increased overdoses and deaths.” This was reinforced by headlines of news articles on display, including: “Child Overdoses on Mother’s Fentanyl.”

Dakota Woodall concurred by adding, “Maine will come to an end as we know it if we don’t do something. People need to listen to what we are saying.”

Another student, Nathan Jordan was very clear when he said that the possibility of a bleak future is not a fantasy. “It is based on what could happen if things continue as is,” he said. “We need to educate to avoid this future.”

Traveling to the bright future the public observed thoughtful ideas and positive outcomes that could result from pragmatic approaches to battling the epidemic.

Cate Culbovich expressed what he learned from the project, “We need more treatment centers where people can get help.”

Julia Mazerolle had an idea that may be helpful in eradicating addiction. “A prescription drink, wearable patch or chewable could be developed to cure opiate addiction. If we can prevent addiction there will be a better future for everyone.”
Elexis Crommett reinforced, “We need to take action that will result in fewer overdoses.”
Sasha Funk proposed, “Scientists could come up with a vaccination which prevents addiction.”
Another scientific approach was offered by John Ulmer. “Scientists could extract the addictive components from prescription drugs.”

Haley Blethen stated that education is imperative, making people aware of the many side effects of addiction. “When a baby is born to an addict, the baby immediately goes through withdrawals. The doctor must give the baby the correct dose of opioids and continue to reduce until they are off the drug. However, the baby remains an addict as ‘once an addict, always an addict’ since the drug rewires your brain,” she said.

The Windham Police Department was also present, and Patrol Captain William Andrews stated that he was impressed with the data collected by the students. “It is refreshing that the youth are taking interest in this epidemic. I’m impressed with their ideas, figures and statistics.”

Rotarian George Bartlett was enthusiastic about the project stating, “this gets the kids involved in the community to help with a very real problem.”

The students were overwhelmingly positive about what they learned which required multi-week investments of time. Ulmer indicated this included, “practicing the Socratic method to answering questions in preparation for this event.”

“We are all at risk as an ‘unlikely addict.”, Elder stated. “It could start simply from an injury, after being prescribed an opioid. One thing leads to another. I just read an article on a police officer dying of an overdose. The problem is so stark and pressing. The students extrapolated the cold hard facts. If the trends don’t change, Maine will become a wasteland. The tide is turning, though, as we are beginning to see companies and doctors held accountable.”

The project was also aided by Be the Influence Coalition, which is a collaborative group of Windham and Raymond community leaders who are working to raise awareness and address concerns caused by substance use and abuse in area communities.

The replica DeLorean was provided by Bill and Patrick Shea of Hubbardston, MA.

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