City of Auburn launches "Hero Initiative"

The initiative is a three-pronged approach at curbing drug overdoses and deaths in the city.




Officials from the city of Auburn launched a new campaign Monday to help curb drug use, overdoses, and deaths.

The "Hero Initiative" is a week-long blast of community forums each night to educate people who struggle with drugs about their options for treatment, as well as the dangers of the drugs.

The initiative combines enforcement, treatment, and education in an effort to stop drug trafficking into Auburn.

"I do believe there is a war on drugs," said Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte. "The data says we need to do something now. We needed to do something yesterday, we needed to do something last year."

One person died every three months over the past 15 months in Auburn due to drug overdoses.

People who struggle with drugs told the city that one of the biggest problems they face is not knowing what treatment options are available, and how to access them.

Mayor LaBonte hopes the Hero Initiative will change that, and then help identify the gaps in treatment, education, and enforcement.

"We're recognizing that the heroin issue is a public health issue and we want to start by helping people get access to resources towards recovery, and that's priority one," said Mayor LaBonte.

Auburn Police Phillip Chief Crowell said the department is struggling with the enforcement aspect.

"We're seeing a lot of traffickers from out-of-state that are coming into our community," said Chief Crowell. "We knew that launching this this week would bring the most awareness to this issue, and hopefully start that community conversation, and begin the launching point for what will our local strategy be moving forward so we can help curb this issue."

Maine Drug Enforcement Agency representatives said the majority of the heroin coming into Maine comes from Columbia and Mexico.

Chief Crowell said that this initiative is not entirely about arresting users, though.

"If an addict was to walk into our PD right now and was to say, 'hey I'm struggling with this,' we're going to do everything we can to find help they need," said Chief Crowell.

Treatment service providers say a mentality such as Crowell's can help.

"More people who get on board with the idea that these are not criminals, these are people with a problem who need help, the new can get more people into treatment, and the problem begins to decrease," said Silas Howland, the co-founder of Recover Together, a medically-assisted treatment facility.

Recover Together just opened last week. The center uses weekly group therapy and Suboxone to help fight the withdrawal symptoms many users experience.

The State spends $3,000,000 a year on drug enforcement, and $72,000,000 per year on treatment.

Mayor LaBonte hopes that the community forums will allow for the discussions to be more relaxed and inspire more conversation and problem-solving.

"We want to make this a tabletop conversation, and having an intensive week of engagement -- can we make it a safe place where people feel comfortable at the dinner table or among family and friends raising the issue of addiction?" said LaBonte.

The week-long initiative ends Saturday with a drug collection event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bedard Pharmacy at 359 Minot Avenue. People can turn in unwanted or unused medications.


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