Addiction conference aimed at those in recovery

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PARIS — Organizers of the annual Basics of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction conference ask that previous attendees hold off on signing up so others in their target audience — mainly those in recovery and their friends and family — can attend.

From the Healthy Oxford Hills office on Main Street in Norway last week, conference organizer Bill Stockwell, Healthy Oxford Hills Partnership Director Jim Douglas and Stephanie LeBlond of Sexual Assault Prevention and Responsive Services, talked about the need to reach other demographics through the educational conference.

This is the 15th year of the event and there’s always a large number of first responders, social workers and others working in the field who sign up, sometimes for several years in a row. Organizers don’t begrudge these attendees and are pleased they want to return, but they want to give others a chance to attend.

“For the last 10 (years), it’s been standing room only,” Douglas said, noting there’s always a waiting list and those slots fill up fast.

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The conference covers the gamut of addictions — from opiates to alcohol to marijuana to prescription drugs, LeBlond said. And there are all sorts of perspectives represented, including recovering addicts, law enforcement, judiciary, doctors, recovery groups and teens affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

Stockwell is a recovering alcoholic and hasn’t had a drink in 25 years. When he first came to western Maine, there was a similar conference that ended up fizzling out. That’s when he got a group together to help people understand addiction. And since he’s been here, he’s witnessed a lot of death.

“I have seen 100-plus deaths since I came in 25 years ago,” he said.

That’s why he’s called on professionals like Dr. Mark Publicker, president of Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine and the conference’s keynote speaker, to come in and help.

“This guy talks in plain English and explains what the addiction process is,” Stockwell said, which includes that it takes alcoholics three months to a year to feel human again. “It’s a real eye-opener for people in the room.”

Also speaking this year is Dr. Peter Leighton of Bridgton Internal Medicine, whose presentation is called, “Opiate Addiction: Demystifying the Story of Medication Assisted Treatment.”

He said Tuesday there are about 50 patients who are currently taking Suboxone — which suppresses withdrawal systems and reduces the craving for opioids — between him and the two other doctors at the practice. He works hand-in-hand with Catherine Bell of Crooked River Counseling and others in her practice to take a two-pronged approach at treating addiction.

“I tackle sort of the physical aspect of their addiction and Catherine and the other three counselors tackle the more emotional and psychological addiction of opioid addiction and how to live life without drugs,” he said. “People get addicted to prescription pain medicines and try to stop and they can’t.”

Leighton said his biggest passion is to get more doctors to prescribe Suboxone to help patients take back control of their lives. He’s had a lot of resistance from fellow doctors and his talk is largely aimed at them.

“I get upset by that because it’s our fault. We created this problem with patients and it’s our responsibility to … help fix it,” he said.

But he also wants to knock down taboos. He doesn’t want people who struggle with opioid addiction to fear what others will think about replacing it with Suboxone.

“People (who) take Suboxone, they can work full-time, they go can go hunting, they can live their lives,” Leighton said. “I tell people, ‘Who cares if you’re on Suboxone? … You’re not going to jail, you’re getting your education, you’re putting food on the table for your family.’”

The conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, at the First Congregational Church of South Paris. Sign ups usually start in October, but those who have wanted to go can sign up now. Organizers ask those who have previously attended and professionals to hold off registering until Thursday, Oct. 15. Applications are available at Common Ground Counseling and will be put on Healthy Oxford Hills’ website. To register, email daphne@commongroundcounseling.org, call 739-2644 or mail the application and $15 fee to Common Ground Counseling, 235 Main St., Norway, ME 04268.

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