How a recovery-oriented approach to substance abuse means economic development for Maine

Last week I posted this article talking about how moving to a recovery-oriented approach to substance abuse can also be a form of economic development.  In particular, I posit that employers implementing hiring programs for people in recovery would be one such strategy.  Lo and behold, there are indeed companies out there starting to do this.  One company, C.N. Brown is partnering with the Western Maine Addiction Task Force, pairing a hiring program for people in recovery with their ANGEL program.  I hope that we see more of these programs roll out.  I also hope we see the media cover these great, positive steps forward with the same vigor as they have covered the death and darkness associated with our heroin addiction crisis.  

There are some promising strategies beginning to launch in efforts to address the opiate abuse epidemic in Maine.  Several police departments, including Augusta and Scarborough, are launching ‘angel’ programs similar to the initiative pioneered by Gloucester police department in Massachusetts.  Last month, the City of Auburn and the Auburn Police Department launched their “Hero Initiative”, a week-long series of forums to do some community brainstorming on how to fill gaps in enforcement, treatment, and education.  Meanwhile, immediately after the Governor LePage and Senator King drug summits, U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II announced the convening of three working groups to come up with strategies to tackle the substance abuse epidemic.

Today, tens of thousands are expected to gather at the National Mall in Washington D.C. for the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally.  Today’s event will feature performances from many artists who are in long-term recovery themselves, including Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Joe Walsh of The Eagles.  Several speakers will also take the stage to share their stories while advocating for the country to end the silence around drug addiction.

The media attention and national spotlight on this country’s drug abuse epidemic has been good to see.  However, those of us who have been in working in this field for decades have seen this before.  The media spotlight will eventually fade as they move on to the next hot-button issue.  However, our nation’s drug addiction issues will not cease when that spotlight has moved on.  That is why it is absolutely crucial that we leverage this focus into well-crafted, sustainable strategies to help as many Americans as we can address their addiction and help them onto a path of wellness.

One of the messages that will ring loud and clear at today’s UNITE to Face Addiction Rally is that recovery is possible for everyone, and that it is an outcome that benefits everyone.  For decades, addiction has been deeply, and wrongly, stigmatized as an individual, moral failing.  We now know that addiction is a brain disease, and like a disease of any other part of the body, is one that needs to be treated with science and compassion.  Our partners in law enforcement understand this quite well which is why we are seeing the rise of these “Angel” programs.  However, it’s time for the broader community to also latch onto and become a part of this movement.

When the Governor LePage and Senator King drug summits were announced, they became quickly politicized and polarized into an enforcement vs. treatment debate.  The reality, as I’ve written about before, is that law enforcement understand quite well that treatment and prevention are essential pieces of the efforts to address drug abuse.  However, I think it is crucial that we need to move even broader than enforcement, prevention, and treatment.  We need to ensure that our overall strategy is one that is recovery-oriented.

Simply, what this means is that we need to consider the whole person in our strategies.  The end game cannot be just getting people into treatment.  That is very important, but we need to look at what kind of supports an individual has as they enter recovery to give them the best chance to remain on a path to wellness.  This means ideally a person is returning to family, social circles, and community environments that are nurturing.  This also means opportunities for education and employment, to empower the person to reintegrate as a productive member of their community.  This is an opportunity for some out-of-the box strategies that will benefit the individual in recovery as well as the broader community.

One such strategy that warrants exploration, is incentives for employers to hire persons in recovery.  Here in Maine we have a great initiative underway to encourage 100 employers to commit to hiring 100 veterans.  The goal of this initiatives is to lower the unemployment rate amongst veterans.  I think a wonderful campaign to come out of the UNITE to Face Addiction Rally, would be a Hire A Person in Recovery initiative.  How wonderful would it be to have 100 companies in Maine step up and commit to hiring people in recovery?

This would be a win-win for the individual and the state of Maine.  You are providing a chance for the person in recovery to get back to work, providing for their family, and most importantly, building resilience and confidence in themselves as a person.  Meanwhile, they are contributing to the local economy and the overall economy of Maine while we reduce the costs of substance abuse.  In the end, building this recovery-oriented system of care is a form of economic development in Maine.  Honestly, I can’t think of a better economic development plan for our state to get behind.


Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.