LEWISTON — The city is in talks to expand a program that partners trained crisis and mental health workers with police officers to assist with calls related to overdoses and substance use.

During a City Council workshop Tuesday, officials from the joint program between Lewiston police and Tri-County Mental Health Services said they’ve seen real progress made through the Project Support You initiative, and that upping a staff member to full time will continue the city’s work to address the opioid epidemic locally.

Due to a rising number of overdoses in 2021, some officials questioned whether another full-time position should be added.

According to Catherine Ryder, CEO of Tri-County Mental Health Services, the program has been such a success so far that it’s become a model to other communities as well as state officials, who are planning a similar initiative.

Project Support You, first rolled out in late 2018, puts a staff member trained in several treatment practices with a police officer to address crisis calls related to substance misuse.

“Together, we operate in a compassionate and humane way by diverting individuals with substance misuse and mental health challenges from involvement in the criminal justice system, and instead connect them to treatment and resources whenever possible,” Ryder said in a memo to the council.


One of the staff members, Dave Bilodeau, spoke to the council Tuesday. During an eight-hour shift, he said he’s typically riding along with an officer for about seven hours, with an hour set aside for reporting and follow-ups on treatment referrals.

Bilodeau and others establish relationships with individuals, and have seen success in diverting people away from incarceration and instead into treatment and recovery programs. However, the pandemic heightened the opioid crisis just after the program began.

Bilodeau’s position is funded by the state’s OPTIONS program, but Lewiston funds an additional part-time employee for the program. Officials will likely be asked this budget season to make that part-time staffer full time, with an added cost of about $41,000.

According to Ryder, Project Support You keeps tabs on individuals who have overdosed, including, for some, a year-over-year for how many overdoses the individual has experienced.

Some of the numbers are stark. One person experienced two in 2019, two in 2020 and seven in 2021. Another had three in 2019, two in 2020, and 15 in 2021.

Data from the program shows that overdoses increased 68% in 2021 over 2020, but Ryder said the administration of Narcan is saving lives. There were 304 overdose calls for service in 2021, with 315 overdose victims and 31 deaths. Narcan was administered to 214 patients, 129 by police.


Tri-County Mental Health Services has also placed “Nalox boxes” at several sites in Lewiston-Auburn, including at Trinity Jubilee Center, the Center for Wisdom’s Women, the Auburn Public Library and Lost Valley ski area. Bilodeau said the all-volunteer ski patrol at Lost Valley had to respond to two overdose situations last year, prompting the installation of the Nalox box.

The marked boxes, not much bigger than a ream of office paper, contain four injectable doses of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, printed instructions for how to administer it and a mask for providing rescue breaths when victims stop breathing.

Police Chief David St. Pierre said Tuesday that he’s seen “a lot of progress” with the program.

“This is a good compliment to the police department,” he said, adding that law enforcement has increasingly been “asked to do things we’re not equipped to do.”

He said Project Support You workers provide a good option for patrol officers, who, depending on the situation and comfort level of the staff member, may leave them with an individual just to talk to or connect with services.

Asked whether the change from a part-time staff member to full time would be enough, he said, “We could probably have 10 and give them enough work. But, it will make a difference.”

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