Maine’s bipartisan addiction bill is a good first step

As a Certified Prevention Specialist with a decade of experience in the field, I support the bi-partisan addiction bill LR 2599. I support this act because as a seasoned prevention professional, I’ve seen this story before. It is a story that has been told all too often. Just a few short years ago the story starred “bath salts” and synthetic cannabinoids. The similar theme being cheap drugs with horrific health consequences flooding our communities. The reality is if we don’t address this epidemic through a comprehensive, multi-sector approach we will keep coming back to this same story. I support this measure because it recognizes the need for a multi-pronged approach.

As a prevention specialist I support in particular the section of the proposal to provide funding for prevention in schools and communities. I am pleased to see this recognition that we need to be addressing this issue across the lifespan starting with our youth. The truth of the matter is youth do not start drug use by using heroin. Our young people more often start with substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and increasingly marijuana. As we address the heroin epidemic we must not forget these other substances, in particular marijuana where according to the 2015 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey 1 in 5 Maine high school youth reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. This number has remained constant since 2009 while use of alcohol, tobacco, and abuse of prescription drugs are all trending downward. This is a red flag and one we cannot ignore if we hope to make meaningful, long-term change in Maine’s addiction crisis.

What this means is we must ensure the prevention programs we put into place in schools are evidence-based. We can’t pick any old program off the shelf and we need to do more than having speakers at assemblies. SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices offer an array of programs that have been shown to be effective in reducing and prevention substance use amongst youth. The tools are out there. But at the same time we must recognize not all Maine communities are the same, so it will be important to link the right program with the right population. The good news is that Maine now has 50 newly certified prevention professionals, like myself, throughout the state that have the experience and knowledge to navigate these programs and ensure they fit with the community. I highly encourage our leaders at the legislature to leverage this wealth of expertise as they look to roll out prevention into schools.

As I mentioned earlier, we cannot address this crisis by addressing heroin and opiates alone. We must recognize that we must look at all addiction issues amongst our youth, including tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. We must continue to look at public health policies that reduce youth access to these substances, while giving them the knowledge and skills to make healthy decisions. One thing we must not do is allow policies that will increase youth access to drugs which is why Maine must not follow Colorado and Washington and the failed policies of marijuana legalization. That policy would significantly compromise all of your efforts outlined in this act.

I am greatly encouraged by this bi-partisan, multi-pronged, and multi-sector response to this public health crisis. I greatly appreciate the acknowledgement that this is but a first step in an effort that will require many, many steps. We must all have the courage to be resolute yet patient and committed to a multi-year, sustained effort. This issue won’t go away when the camera lights fade away. We must all be in this for the long haul.

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.