maine's opiate addiction and the medical pot that could cure it

STORIES OF OPIATE ADDICTION are very common in Maine news. With a population of just a little more than 1 million people statewide, it’s still shocking whenever an overdose is reported. Within the past decade, heroin and prescription opiate abuse in Maine has skyrocketed. Heroin purity levels have gone up while street prices have dropped. Now in 2016, heroin and other opiates are no longer considered “hard drugs” that people do in secret, they’re out in the open at parties and it’s no longer jarring to hear someone you know talk about their use of heroin, Oxycontin, Suboxone, Percocet or Vicodin.

I graduated from a Maine high school in 2007 when prescription pills were just starting to be offered at parties — they were stolen from parents’ medicine cabinets or left over from wisdom teeth operations. Two years later and just a few miles away from my house, a fellow student passed away from hypothermia near a gravel pit after taking muscle relaxers. Today, if I tried to count the people I know who have experimented with prescription opiates and/or heroin, I wouldn’t be able to and I’d have to include myself. Within that count, there would be acquaintances, friends and boyfriends who have experienced a minor curiosity spiral into a years-long struggle with addiction.

It may not be a negative thing that the stigma surrounding opiate addiction is disappearing. Today, everyone knows someone — especially within my millennial age group. Because I personally know people who are struggling and I respect them, it has become impossible for me stay silent on the issue of a possible solution. Opiate experimentation and addiction is now the status-quo and Maine has to deal with it.

Bill Scannell, a Massachusetts resident who recently lost his 20-year-old son to a heroin overdose, wrote in his son’s obituary, “My son wasn’t a junkie. He wasn’t some back-alley alley heroin addict.”

Bill’s son, Emmett, was a member of the National Honors Society and he was attending Worcester State on a full academic scholarship. Maine has to start thinking of its people like Bill still thinks of his son: like a human being who is far more than his or her addiction.

According to Maine’s Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in 2014, 350,000 Maine residents were prescribed a total of 80 million doses of opiates. That’s about 1 in 4 Mainers and that statistic only accounts for the people who received their drug from a physician. Opiate addicts are working professionals, they’re people with families, they’re college students, graduates, they’re people who have hopes and plans for their individual futures — that stuff doesn’t go away when you get addicted to pills or heroin. Many of these addictions have stemmed from work injuries or flourished after routine operations you get in high school. Maine’s addiction problem is robbing our state of the young spirit that keeps our community progressing into the future, and that is a serious loss considering we’re so hard-pressed to keep people here in the first place.

For years, we’ve been joining the rest of the nation in throwing more pharmaceutical drugs on top of addiction and just calling it good. To manage an Oxycontin addiction, you’re prescribed Suboxone. When you get addicted to Suboxone and can no longer afford it, you resort to heroin. When you want to get off heroin, we send you to your nearest Methadone clinic. Maine began treating opiate addiction with Methadone in 1995. By 1996, 200 people were using it. Today, there are at least 1,500. Finally, people are feeling comfortable enough to publically share their stories of completing this same cycle over and over again, with no real hope that it’s actually going to work this time. They’re joined by advocates and concerned family and friends, together the Maine community is demanding that our state offer up a better solution to addiction than Narcotics Anonymous, Methadone and a positive attitude. [read more]