It is imperative that Mainers understand and support the idea of rehabilitating as many individuals addicted to substances as can possibly be done. Some people are unlucky in having played witness to the drug epidemic firsthand and understand the necessity of providing as many resources for treatment as possible.

In 2015, 272 Mainers died from drug overdoses — a record for the state at the time. Gasping at the idea of reaching a new record, the 2016 statistics of Maine overdose deaths soared to a record of 378 people — a 40 percent increase from the year prior. Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were the cause of 313 of drug deaths in Maine last year.

More drug users mean more crime. But, ultimately, we can end the cycle by providing more opportunities to get clean, including in the county jails.

As proposed in the 128th Maine Legislature, LD 377, “An Act To Create a County Jail Drug Rehabilitation and Treatment Grant Program,” seeks to establish drug rehabilitation and treatment programs for those people incarcerated in county jails. The programs would be funded by grants from the state.

Passage of that bill would mean that inmates affected by substance abuse would have the opportunity to enroll in a short-term or long-term in-patient or out-patient program while incarcerated.

To qualify for funding, facilities would have to provide evidence-based rehabilitation and treatment, which might include but not be limited to, detoxification services, medication-assisted treatment, clinical treatment, medical services, faith-based treatment, peer support, family support, self-care, recovery coaching and support services and educational services.

Those in county jail typically spend three weeks detained prior to release or transfer. Of that time detained, none is devoted to drug rehabilitation or treatment. Although some inmates may not be detained specifically due to drug crimes, many times they are connecting dots to bigger issues.

In 2013, the highest number of primary convictions for crimes committed by the current Maine prison population is, once again, for drug offenses at 309, or 14 percent overall. The time inmates are detained can be a crucial turning point in their lives. By providing inmates with the option of rehabilitation and treatment, it offers them a reason to change.

Inmates throughout time have had a stigma of being unworthy of treatment due to the circumstances of their imprisonment. But what about those just caught in the crossfire — causalities at the hand of the opioid epidemic? Individuals with predispositions for substance abuse in their lifetime frequently appear in county jails without any idea of how to address the root of the problem.

By providing a rehabilitation and treatment program to those in county jails, individuals are given the chance to evaluate their choices surrounding substances and determine if they are finally ready to make real change in their lives.

Focusing on drug rehabilitation and treatment will reduce recidivism in counties across the state but, most importantly, will help those individuals who are addicted to substances currently ravaging Maine cities.

On March 15, the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety will convene for a public hearing on LD 377 at the State House in Augusta. I encourage all Maine citizens to show support for that bill. We need to be in support of rehabilitation and treatment facilities in the county jails. We need to remain hopeful for those who have lost their way.

Shae Long received her bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Southern Maine in spring of 2015. She is enrolled in the master’s degree in social work program at the University of Maine with a focus on inmate populations and community development. She is a project supervisor at Black Bear Support Services in Lewiston.

Shae Long

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