BRIDGTON —The Lakes Region Substance Abuse Coalition has announced plans to create a peer support recovery center at Bridgton Hospital.
Catherine Clough-Bell, executive director of Crooked River Counseling in Bridgton, says her organization has been awarded a state contract to create one of several such centers across Maine. Clough-Bell, also Lakes Region Substance Abuse Coalition vice president, said the coalition helped in the effort to secure the contract.
“The center will be located in the older hospital building and we will begin renovating the space as soon as we have a finalized contract. We are hopeful to open around April or May,” Clough-Bell said.
Clough-Bell said the center will be a resource for people with various substance abuse disorders, people in recovery, and their loved ones – calling it “a place to gather to offer each other hope, strength and wisdom.”
Coalition leadership highlighted the recovery center development at a Dec. 19 Bridgton Selectboard meeting.
Bridgton Police Chief Richard Stillman gave a brief introduction about the coalition before turning the mic over to Dr. Peter Leighton from Bridgton Internal Medicine, who serves on the substance abuse coalition’s board of directors and is past president of the group.
“As I’m sure you know, we have a major opiate crisis statewide — nationwide, really,” said Leighton. “And it certainly has impacted the town of Bridgton and the surrounding communities.”
Leighton said that since he, Stillman and several others started the Lake Region Substance Abuse Coalition in December 2015, the group has become “incredibly robust.”
According to Leighton, the group has grown to the point that he had to give up his role as president, saying it was impacting his ability to take care of patients.
A general internist, Leighton said he sees approximately 105 patients regularly each week as part of a suboxone program. Suboxone is used to treat opiate addiction and withdrawal.
Leighton said he is “very passionate about tackling this issue from a medical standpoint.”
The Selectboard also received the coalition annual report last week, which detailed the group’s membership and initiatives over its two-year history.
According to Leighton, the recovery center will provide a “safe space for people in recovery to come to in our communities” in order to attend meetings and classes.
Leighton thanked the town and said that “the community of Bridgton has been an incredibly supportive community with the work that we’re doing.”
Selectboard Chairman Watkins congratulated the group on the announcement and said he thought it was “very important” for people in the community “to know that these services are out there, that these programs are available for people, and that there’s also an opportunity for people to get involved and to work with the coalition to further their goals as well.”
Selectboard member Robert McHatten Sr. asked Leighton if there had been a “downturn on drugs being furnished through the medical society itself.”
Leighton said that a recent study by the Centers of Disease Control “has proven” that opiate prescribing has gone down nationwide, but cautioned that the decrease has in some ways been a “double-edged sword.”
That decrease in prescribed opioids, Leighton said, has led to an increase in price for illegal prescribed opiates on the street. He said that as prices for those drugs increase, people turn to cheaper alternatives such as heroin or fentanyl.
“People are going to the cheaper alternative, which is heroin,” he said.
The Lakes Region Substance Abuse Coalition has 31 paid members and partnerships with over 40 other organizations, according to its annual report. The Lakes Region Weekly is one of those partner organizations.
Stillman said that the coalition meets once a month in the Bridgton municipal complex’s meeting room at 4:30 in afternoon. Those meetings take place on the second Thursday of each month. The coalition can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-803-9987.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.