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Reflections on the December 2017 Opioid Taskforce Report

Reflections on the December 2017 Opioid Taskforce Report

Last month, the Opioid Taskforce released its final report. The Taskforce, which was convened in March 2017, was charged with examining current laws, the Recommendations of the Maine Opiate Collaborative (MOC) (released in May 2016), as well as initiatives undertaken by other states, to develop a set of recommendations to address Maine’s opiate crisis.  

Taskforce members brought a diversity of experiences and perspectives to the table, representing the interests of law enforcement, clinicians, the recovery community, and other important stakeholder groups.  The 20-member panel met ten times, both as a full group and in smaller groups, broken down by prevention/harm reduction, treatment/recovery, and law enforcement.  To inform its work, the Taskforce was presented with information on various state and national program models including Snuggle ME, Operation Hope, and Drug Free Communities.1  Ultimately, the Taskforce utilized a prioritization exercise that looked at both the ease and impact of implementing each of the MOC Recommendations to hone in on a set of 20 recommendations.  Several of the December 2017 Taskforce Recommendations include:

  • Introduce legislation that develops and funds programs that prepare inmates with substance use disorder for their release into the community;
  • Promote existing programs that take back prescription drugs without creating a consumer-borne cost; and
  • Provide an update on efforts underway to improve the 2-1-1 service in relation to substance use disorders.  

Taskforce members approached the task at hand with a strong sense of responsibility, both as experts and advocates.  To illustrate this, consider a seemingly minor change that was requested by Ross Hicks, Harm Reduction Coordinator at the Health Equity Alliance days before the scheduled release of the final report.  Mr. Hicks asked that the word “clean” be changed to “sterile” when referring to syringe exchange programs that allow clients to exchange their supplies (because the word “clean” implies that used supplies are “dirty” and the word “dirty” carries a negative connotation).2  This was a very significant change that highlighted the persistent issue of stigma in our best efforts to address the opiate crisis.   

The 128th Legislature will take up the recommendations in its Second Regular Session, which convened on January 3.  In a recent Portland Press Herald piece about the report, Taskforce members underscored the urgency of action.  The article conveys the important point that solutions can’t rely solely on legislative action, but also on community efforts: in other words, the issue is too urgent to wait for the Taskforce recommendations to be adopted.

Many will be motivated to act based on the overwhelming human toll that this has had on our communities – we are losing friends and neighbors on a daily basis to this epidemic; families are feeling the impact, not just from lives lost, but from lives dramatically changed, particularly those of children and infants whose parents are struggling with addiction.  For others, an economic argument may be needed to spur action.  According to the Altarum Center for Value in Health Care, this crisis is estimated to have cost the nation $95 billion dollars in lost productivity, health spending, criminal justice costs, and child and family assistance in 2016.

An important outcome that came out of this process was the realization that the proposed action areas of prevention/harm reduction, treatment/recovery, and law enforcement are interrelated.  If I could add a recommendation #21, I would suggest continued efforts to work across silos.  Coordination and leverage will yield the greatest success in our legislative and community efforts to address Maine’s opiate crisis.

1 The Snuggle ME guidelines were developed by the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in partnership with obstetric, pediatric and substance abuse specialists across Maine, and the Maine CDC.  Operation Hope was modeled after a similar program in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program is administered by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. 

2 https://www.shatterproof.org/about-addiction/stigma/stigma-reducing-language

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