Heroin use growing steadily in central Maine

Greg Bazakas, the Coordinator for Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Services at KBH, provides substance abuse and Complex Outpatient Adult and Child counseling at KBH's Waterville and Skowhegan clinics. He also oversees operations related to a Maine Office of Substance Abuse Services grant that helps KBH provide additional supports and services to teens in central Maine.

Q: Could you share with our readers the effects of the increase of heroin use in Maine.

A: There is ample evidence supporting the claim that heroin use has been steadily increasing in Maine over the past few years. The most glaring effect of this trend is an increase in heroin-related overdoses. The Portland Police report that it has received two-to-four calls per day related to heroin overdose, up from two-to-three calls per week just a short time ago. A more sobering statistic is the 21 individuals who died from heroin overdose last year, up three-fold from the year before. Opiate abuse has been a growing problem in Maine for several years. Increased use of heroin is likely a product of market forces. The supply of prescription narcotics and other habit-forming drugs have been curtailed due to an increasing awareness among prescribers and institutional support for their work, such as the State's Prescription Monitoring Program. Restricted supply has increased the street price of these drugs and made heroin relatively less expensive. Additionally, there is a strong profit incentive for dealers to enter Maine markets: Doses are sold at a much higher price, $30, than the $6 per-dose price that is charged in major metropolitan areas such as Boston and New York. These drugs are destructive on a number of levels: individual, family and community and, while it is difficult to quantify the cost of this damage, it is safe to say that it is extremely high.

Q: To what extent are Maine children using heroin?

A: Children are using heroin. However, most use is by the adult population. In 2011, 14.6% of Maine's high school students reported trying opiates at least once and 7.1% had done so within the past 30 days. A look at Maine's Treatment Data System (TDS) indicates that for two-thirds of all opiate treatment admissions of females ages 14-40, heroin is listed as the primary drug used. What this tells us is that there is a high rate of heroin use among females who use opiates and are of child-bearing age. When thinking about the impact of heroin use on Maine's youth, it is important to not just focus on direct use of that population, but also to consider the indirect impact of parental use.

Q: What is the most problematic drug for our community's children right now?

A: Statistically, nicotine, cannabis and alcohol have been and remain the most commonly used drugs by children in our community. Based on anecdotal evidence, I would add stimulant use to this list. It is remarkable how many children report heavy use of energy drinks and other beverages that contain caffeine, a psychoactive substance, that, when misused, can have a negative impact on mental health and development.

Q: What efforts does KBH make for preventive work with our communities children?

A: KBH is addressing substance abuse prevention and intervention in a collaborative approach with our local Healthy Maine Partnerships, Law Enforcement, Social Service Providers, Youth and Community Members. KBH is contracted by the Greater Somerset Public Health Collaborative to direct work through our Drug Free Communities Grant and objectives from SAMHS addressing the prevention of marijuana and prescription drug use. We are working with Youth Advisory Groups in five school systems allowing the youth to be leaders in their schools in addressing the prevention of youth substance use.

Q: What advice would you share with those of us who have school-aged children who might be impacted by the pressures of substance abuse?

A: There are four parenting practices that we encourage caregivers to use when trying to help their children avoid or abstain from use:  

  • Be a good role model;
  • Have regular and frequent positive communication;
  • Monitor your child's whereabouts (who, where, when, why); and
  • Get involved in your child's life outside the home.

Raising children is one of the most complex things we undertake and there are many factors that contribute to how children develop, but using these practices has been scientifically shown to reduce the risk that children will develop a problem with drugs and alcohol. There are many resources available for parents who would like to learn more about substance abuse. Good places to start are the websites for the Maine Office of Substance Abuse Services and SAMHSA.gov.

Information: KBH Substance Abuse Treatment, 888-322-2136
Interviewer: Samantha LeFebvre, KBH Communications Office

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