Fighting Crisis with Collaboration

It has been nearly three decades since our first collaborative efforts to address public health issues in Maine.  In the early 90’s we were partners in the fight to control tobacco use and addiction in Maine.  At that time, our efforts led to innovative deployment of Tobacco Settlement dollars to create a comprehensive response that helped young people from starting to smoke and helped those who were addicted to quit.  (At that time, Barbara worked at the Maine Bureau of Health and Gordon at Maine Medical Association.)  Today, we are again working together with allies in health care, law enforcement, and the legislature to identify and implement potential solutions to the opiate crisis that has claimed so many lives in our state.

It is noteworthy that we are once again taking a multi-sector approach to address a health issue that has widespread societal impact.  An effective response to today’s opiate crisis, which has many contributing factors, must be multi-dimensional: to combat stigma associated with substance use disorder and medication-assisted treatment (MAT); to educate providers about alternative methods of pain management and compassionate tapering of prescription opioids; and to identify and address root causes of the opiate epidemic, such as drug trafficking and over-prescribing of these highly addictive drugs.  

We are encouraged by the work of the Maine Opiate Collaborative (MOC), which brought together people from the education, prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement fields to examine the science and best practices as well as to solicit community input into how our state can provide a comprehensive approach to combat addiction.  The MOC released a Recommendations Report in May 2016 to guide this work.  With funding from the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF), Maine Quality Counts (MQC) and Maine Medical Education Trust (MMET) have been able to complete important education, activation, and information gathering activities with health systems and provider organizations to build our collective knowledge of the health sector’s capacity to address the opiate crisis.   MeHAF’s new Addiction Care Program builds on the work of the MOC, MQC, and MMET to expand medication-assisted treatment for medically underserved people who are struggling with opiate addiction.  

Treatment alone will not be enough to curb Maine’s opiate epidemic.  MeHAF funding will support just one part of the solution.  Just as with tobacco, our approach needs to be multi-sector and coordinated so that treatment efforts can be brought together with effective prevention, humane harm reduction, and appropriate law enforcement.

Despite the staggering statistics of overdose deaths in our state, we are optimistic that, together, we can craft viable, sustainable solutions to save lives of people throughout the State of Maine.  

Barbara Leonard Gordon Smith
President and CEO Executive Vice President
Maine Health Access Foundation Maine Medical Association


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