Northern Light Health Well Represented at Governor Mills Inaugural Opioid Summit
Maine’s opioid epidemic reaches every corner of our state, from the rural northern counties to the densely populated urban centers in our south. Drug overdoses killed 418 people across our state in 2017 and 354 in 2018. That decrease is a step in the right direction, but still historically high for Maine at nearly one overdose death per day.
The Mills administration has made combatting the opioid epidemic a priority and organized the “Turning the Tide” opioid summit at the Augusta Civic Center on July 15. The day-long summit brought together more than one thousand people from healthcare, social services, government, and law enforcement to discuss solutions to the opioid epidemic.
Northern Light Health employees across the system from Presque Isle, Bangor, and Portland, were among those in attendance including Lisa Harvey-McPherson, RN, MBA, MPPM, vice president Government Relations, Northern Light Health; Laura Turner, director of Community Outreach, Northern Light AR Gould Hospital; and Mark S. Brown, MD, MSPH, neonatologist, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.
Dr. Brown was impressed by the tone Governor Mills and the presenters set. “We’re not talking about addiction; we’re talking about substance use disorder. Our language drives our biases and our thought processes so if you think about the people were talking about as abusing drugs, you’re going to have a different attitude about them than if you think about them as having a substance use disorder,” he says.
The summit paired presentations by federal and state officials about plans to address the opioid epidemic with personal stories of Mainers in recovery who have been affected by opioid use disorder.
“Their stories are powerful and set you in a good frame of mind to think this is why I’m here, and this is what we need to do. These are real people behind these stories—it’s very powerful,” explains Laura. Laura was also impressed with some of the breakout sessions where she was able to learn more about the state resources that were available to her in terms of the community outreach work she and her team are doing. “It’s a good opportunity to learn where the state is going, what other organizations are doing, how we fit into that framework, and to determine the need,” she says.
The Keynote speaker was Sam Quinones, a Los Angeles-based investigative journalist and author of the book “Dreamland” which chronicles how an Ohio town began becoming flooded with opioids in the late 1990s. “It was interesting to hear that history of how we got here from this national problem,” explaines Laura.
Laura and Dr. Brown were also interested in learning about solutions to create a better future for those suffering from opioid use disorder. Governor Mills outlined a 10-point plan that includes eliminating a two-year cap on medication-assisted treatment for suboxone and methadone for Medicaid patients, purchasing and making available 35-thousand doses of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, and training recovery coaches.
“The other message that I got was this has to be grassroots-driven,” explains Dr. Brown. “This is not Augusta saving the state. It’s a permissiveness that this is your responsibility at the grassroots level, and we will do whatever we can to help you out. Now we have to go do it.”