The Hungry Heart

 “This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” This was the script for a TV ad by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in1987—and the first time most Americans realized that drug abuse was a serious and growing problem in our country. The man with the frying pan and the fried egg gave us a clear, if simplistic, picture of the effect of drugs on the brain. Eleven years later, a sequel ad featuring an iron-skillet wielding woman smashing plates and kitchen cabinets let viewers know that “This is what drugs do to your families and friends. Any questions?”

 

Since the War on Drugs was started under the Nixon administration in 1971, drug use in our country, our state, our towns, and our homes has grown more than anyone could have imagined. In recent years, the focus on drugs, opioids in particular, has expanded from preventing illegal drugs coming into our country to decreasing prescriptions of legal opioids written by medical providers, counseling and opioid replacement medication (suboxone and methadone) treatment programs, and community interventions to give support to individuals and families impacted by addiction. According to the Maine State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW), one in three Maine families is dealing with drug addiction in some way.

 

Throughout the Blue Hill peninsula, Healthy Acadia’s Drug Free Communities Coordinator, Denise Black, has partnered with the Healthy Island Project, the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, the Island Medical Center, the Community Resource Collaborative, Deer Isle/Stonington and Blue Hill schools, the Reach Performing Arts Center, the Town of Blue Hill, the New Surry Theater, and Healthy Peninsula to bring informational programs to the public. Each “community conversation” has included the movie “The Hungry Heart” followed by a panel discussion with local substance abuse and law enforcements experts. The first two programs were held in Stonington and Deer Isle with good community participation; the next program will be held in Blue Hill on Tuesday, May 17th, 5–8 pm, at the Blue Hill Town Hall.

 

The Hungry Heart documents the challenges faced by residents of a small Vermont town, focusing on the “hidden world of prescription drug abuse, opiate addiction, and the successes and struggles of recovery”. Raina Lowell, Hungry Heart blogger writes,

“Addiction does not discriminate. It is not a sign of weakness. It is not [a] representation of a person’s character and it is not a representation of choice. Addiction is powerful beyond all reason. It is manipulative and deceptive and terrifying. It systematically destroys all that is good and innocent and pure and in its wake we find soul crushing desperation, profound mistrust and fear. And then there is the shame…Shame is born of ignorance. It is born of a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of what addiction is, how and why it develops and what happens to a person (and their brain) when it does. It is the shame that keeps us silent and it is our silence that allows this problem to grow and grow.”

 

How are our island towns responding to this crisis? For more than three years, Dr. Charles Zelnick of Island Family Medicine (IFM) has been treating patients with suboxone. Dr. Thomas Bugbee recently completed training with suboxone and will be joining Dr. Zelnick in treating those with opioid addiction. Also at the IFM are two professionals available to provide individual counseling, one dedicated to substance abuse counseling. Healthy Island Project has recently convened the Community Task Force on Opioid Addiction, and the K–12 Substance Abuse Prevention Team is newly active in the island schools. In addition, the Island Medical Center Board of Trustees is committed to partnering with local government, schools, and treatment experts to bring more opioid treatment resources to the island.

 

Dr. Zelnick acknowledges “opioid replacement treatment isn’t for everyone. It’s not a cure, but it is about safety for the opioid users. Once I started treating patients with suboxone, I was surprised at how satisfying it was to help people, especially young people, get their lives back”.

What you can do! Ask your child what he or she already knows about drug use. Lock up all your medications at home. Understand what to look for and how to help someone in need. Seek help if you are struggling with your own addiction. Be a role model for your family and friends. Connect with Drug Free Communities at http://www.healthyacadia.org or the Healthy Communities Resource Guide http://bhmh.org/Healthy-Peninsula-Community-Resource-guide.aspx for more information. Tune in to http://news.mpbn.net/post/recovery-small-town-part-1-opiates-pose-challenges-bridgton-police#stream/0 to see how another Maine community is dealing with their opioid crisis. Attend an informational presentation in your town. Work with your friends and neighbors to help the people you care about.

 

Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner and a member of the HP Advisory Board.