The Rumford Police Department is the host law enforcement agency for Oxford County in a state initiative to combat substance use through mobile response teams. From left are team members officer Ashley Rich of the Police Department, Glenn Gordon of Oxford County Mental Health Services and police Sgt. Tracey Higley. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — A yearlong pilot program to prevent drug overdoses statewide during the COVID-19 pandemic is providing glimmers of hope, according to members of a local intervention team.

Gov. Janet Mills initiated Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety, or OPTIONS for short, last year. The Rumford Police Department was selected as the host law enforcement agency because the River Valley accounts for a significant number of the overdoses in the Oxford County.

The state contracted with Oxford County Mental Health Services and a mobile response team was formed. It includes police Sgt. Tracey Higley, Officer Ashley Rich and Glenn Gordon, outreach clinician for OPTIONS and recovery coach with Oxford County Mental Health Services.

“We started to get our first referrals from the Rumford Police Department right around Dec. 30,” Gordon said. “We had a few more referrals in January and started working with some people. Then in February, we really kind of started rolling things out a little bit more.

Gordon said, “We all started working together about three weeks ago, and we have been reaching out to other police departments in Oxford County to start establishing relationships and getting referrals and start spreading the program further through the rest of the county.”

The team links people with pretty much any resources they need. “We’ve taken some people to long-term treatment, to detox, whatever they need. Maybe they’re being referred to a 12-step meeting or a self-help group.”

Higley said the program is producing what he considers to be success stories.

“It may be people we’re dealing with that have tried two, 10, 20 times, and because we keep going back, treating them with the respect that they deserve … I just look at it as somebody that I’ve had contact and we’ve learned to have a rapport with over the years.”

Gordon said isolation and loneliness are probably the two biggest symptoms of alcoholism and drug abuse.

He said, “I’ve had some people that I’ve been referred to and I’ve made phone calls and made contact with, and in the moment, they say, ‘OK, I’ll check in with you the next day’ and that’s the last I hear of them. I will continue to try to make contact. When somebody’s ready, they’re just ready.”

Gordon believes his story helps him help people with substance abuse to seek recovery.

“I was sober for 17 years, and I went out and used again,” he said. “It took me six years to get back and now I’m clean for 13 years. I was one of those people of the opinion that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do. And I’d get frustrated because I’d be working with people with drinking and drug problems, and I say, ‘Just stop. What’s your problem?’ I was very frustrated, very opinionated, very judgmental. And then I went through it. Now I get it,” he said.

Higley said Gordon has many, many contacts and references police don’t, as well as the time to use them. “It takes a village, right? If we go to the scene of a drug overdose that’s not fatal, (Gordon) is going to find out about it.”

Partnerships include the Larry Labonte Recovery Center in Mexico, which provides a safe nonjudgmental environment for those seeking recovery and accessing services for addictions of all types in the River Valley and surrounding towns.

“One of the people I’ve worked with recently is going over there for recovery coaching and getting some services,” Gordon said. “We’ve been using that as kind of a neutral ground to meet people about what we have going on and what the resources are and seeing what they need.”

Kathie Williams of the recovery center said another partner is Bonnie Gatchell of the Adam Gregory Gatchell Memorial Foundation, who has stepped up to provide transportation funds.

“It’s always good to hear of a success,” Higley said. “I think one of the things that really motivates me is thinking how this is going to help down the road. I’ve been at this a long time and always like to see things that are going to help.”

Rich said, “I think this program is going to pay back 10 fold throughout the community and it’s going to create a more positive interactions, as opposed to negative interactions, and really strengthen our bond within the community.”

Gordon said, “We’re like planting seeds. These things don’t always take root in the way you think they are. It’s nice when someone goes ‘thank you’ and makes a move in a positive direction.”

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