York County now has plans to spend $45 million in an effort to address Maine’s opioid epidemic through the construction of a 58-bed regional recovery center, a public safety training facility, and a 30-unit apartment building.
The aim of the project is to take a holistic approach to this crisis by addressing three of its component parts: addiction, housing, and public safety.
According to the Bangor Daily News, the regional recovery center will consist of 8 detoxification beds, 36 residential and outpatient treatment beds, and 8 “observation beds” — or beds where people can be brought by first responders or family members in the middle of the night to await a clinician’s assessment in the morning, as opposed to being taken to a jail cell.
Between January and August of this year, York County has seen 47 fatal overdoses and 705 nonfatal overdoses that required Emergency Medical Services (EMS) intervention, according to Maine’s Monthly Overdose Report for August.
During this same period statewide, there were 409 fatal overdoses and 6,028 reported nonfatal overdoses.
“There is a significant amount of the population that simply does not have access to the appropriate type of treatment,” York County Manager Greg Zinser told WMTW.
“What we’re looking to do is to create an avenue for people to enter treatment without having to go through the criminal justice system,” Zinser said.
“I’ve seen it a few times,” York County Sheriff William King said to WMTW. “Someone said they needed help, well, you have to be sober before we take you to one of the programs that are already established. So, we’ll be back in two or three days, and then, of course, by that time, we’ve lost that opportunity.”
“It’s expensive to keep people in jail,” Sheriff King said. “So, if we can, if we can instead give them treatment and we can reduce the recidivism, we’re doing our job.”
In a letter to the Maine Recovery Council, York County officials stated that the county’s undertaking is “an opportunity for Maine to become a national model in substance use treatment service delivery.”
The letter also expressed a need for an additional $7 million in funding in order to complete the project, requesting that the Maine Recovery Council help them to close the gap.
“Some have suggested that the county should choose one project over the other,” the letter says. “We firmly believe both projects are critically needed and intertwined.”
Other sources of funding for the County’s projects include federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), proceeds from opioid lawsuit settlements, and the Sanford Housing Authority. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME) also helped to secure additional federal funding for the projects earlier this year.
As of now, it still remains to be seen whether York County will be able to procure the additional funding needed to move forward with the project as planned.
Over the summer, Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a directive creating a commission tasked with studying the effectiveness of “Harm Reduction Health Centers” — also known as “safe injection sites” or “safe consumption sites” — as a potential solution to the state’s overdose death epidemic.
This represents a markedly different approach to addressing the overdose crisis than York County’s plan, as Harm Reduction Health Centers are facilities where individuals can use previously obtained illicit drugs under medical supervision without fear of arrest.
These facilities are intended to provide drug users with a place where drugs can be consumed with clean paraphernalia and in the presence of medical professionals who can administer life-saving treatment in the case of an overdose.
The commission is scheduled to issue a report detailing its findings and recommendations, as well as any proposed legislation by February 15, 2024.
It is not yet clear what, if any, legislative changes will ultimately result from the commission’s report after it is published next year.