Addicts Becoming More Frequent, Younger in Maine

By Shawn Dwyer 12/02/13

State welcome signs read “The Way Life Should Be,” but Maine has rapidly become one of the country’s biggest abusers of prescription painkillers.

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Land of lobsters, lighthouses, and addiction.

What has been going on in the lovely state of Maine these days? First it was reported that a record 770 babies born in Maine so far in 2013 are addicted to drugs, and now Lincoln, ME – a sleepy town of just 5,000 people – is seeing an alarming rise in the number of addicts. And the average age has been getting younger.

While the evidence is anecdotal, police and treatment centers have seen people in their 20s and even teenagers either seeking treatment for the opiate addictions or committing crimes to get their fix. Sharon Greenleaf, assistant director at Northeast Occupational Exchange, has noticed the difference. “Before the situation was that we would see an older group of people, probably more in their late 30s and 40s,” she said. “Now we are seeing people using drugs at a much younger age, in their early, early teens, and now they are coming into treatment in their 20s and they have already had 10 or 15 years of drug use.” Greenleaf added that many of her patients are addicted to hardcore drugs like oxycodone, bath salts, and heroin.

Meanwhile, police in Lincoln and elsewhere across the state have seen a rise in violent and property crimes. The number of robberies increased by 13.8 percent, while domestic violence has risen 4.5 percent. “Drugs remain a key reason for much of the crime in Maine,” Public Safety Commissioner John E. Morris said in a press release earlier this year.

Options for the state are limited, particularly for treatment centers, which battle the state’s two-year cap on Medicaid coverage for medications used to fight opiate addiction. For recovery professionals like Greenleaf, that means doing everything possible to make treatment more available. “We have tried to make it as low-barrier and easy to enter as possible so there is nothing that gets in the way of people who want to attend it. We hope.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.