Lewiston City Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, left, chats Tuesday with Chantel St. Laurent, an addiction substance abuse counselor at Recovery Connections of Maine after a City Hall news conference. City officials announced the formation of the Mayor’s Ad-hoc Committee on Substance Use and Recovery. Gelinas and St. Laurent will be on the committee, which will make recommendations to the City Council to develop a framework to support people in recovery. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON – With the COVID-19 pandemic finally looking as if it might lessen its grip, officials are gearing up to tackle another huge public health crisis: fentanyl-driven substance abuse.

Gordon Smith, director of opioid response for the state, said Tuesday that the crisis is as bad as it’s ever been in Maine.

He hailed the creation of the Mayor’s Ad-hoc Committee on Substance Use and Recovery in Lewiston as an important step toward forging a “recovery-ready community” that can help people overcome addiction and get their lives back on track.

Mayor Carl Sheline said he formed the new, 16-member panel because substance abuse disorder is “affecting people in your neighborhood and on your street,” no matter where you live.

He said the committee will have a year to explore the issue, assessing the challenges and opportunities in a bid to establish an environment that moves past the stigma that has long surrounded addiction.

“We must do better. We can do better. And we will do better,” said City Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, who is co-chairing the panel with Sheline.


Chantel St. Laurent, who works with Recovery Connections and the R.E.S.T. Center, said she was addicted for years, believing herself “a lost cause” and feeling “miserable, exhausted and hopeless” trying to cope.

Eventually, though, with help from family, God and “fellow recovery warriors,” she said she got her bearings.

“Absolutely no one is a lost cause,” St. Laurent said.

She said what’s facing the city isn’t an opioid epidemic but rather “a trauma epidemic” that will take plenty of recovery resources to overcome.

Dr. John Alexander, chief medical officer at Central Maine Health Care, said Lewiston is lucky to have many dedicated people and organizations combating addiction but more resources are needed.

“There are gaps,” Smith said.

He said the new committee, which includes him, will need to identify needs and then recommend ways to fill them. Smith said there is money available to bolster available programs and initiatives.

“We need to make progress on this issue,” Sheline said.

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