WISCASSET, Maine — In an effort to combat what Boothbay Harbor Police Chief Robert Hasch called “the problem of our time,” Lincoln County law enforcement and addiction treatment providers have undertaken a countywide collaboration designed to make drug treatment programs available locally to those suffering with addiction — particularly to heroin and other opiates.

Sen. Chris Johnson, a Democrat who represents Lincoln County, spearheaded the program after hearing from residents of the largely rural county who are struggling with drugs. Johnson met with police officials in Scarborough, where, instead of charging someone with drug possession, the Operation Hope program connects people with treatment and a volunteer “angel” to help them through detox and recovery. Then he met with law enforcement and treatment providers in Lincoln County to create a program based in the Damariscotta office of Mid Coast Hospital’s Addiction Resource Center, Johnson said.

The “community discussion” included Johnson, Hasch, Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett, Damariscotta Police Chief Ronald Young, Waldoboro Police Chief William Labombarde and Wiscasset Police Chief Jeffrey Lange, as well as Lois Skillings, president and CEO of Mid Coast-Parkview Health, Cindy Wade, executive vice president and COO of LincolnHealth, and Eric Haram, executive director of Mid Coast Hospital’s Addiction Resource Center.

They discussed challenges, including the geography of the area, which can make transportation to treatment a problem, as well as the seasonal nature of the rural communities’ populations, which, combined with so many fishermen, has created “a real cash-and-barter economy” that doesn’t always include health insurance.

What emerged was agreement on the need to provide support to people learning to handle addiction during every step of their recovery, beginning with their first meeting at the Addiction Resource Center, according to Johnson.

“Their aim is to get people into treatment within two days, and we’re looking to continue that,” Johnson said of the Addiction Resource Center. “They’re making a commitment of one to five days, and they’re making a commitment that they will maintain staff levels to achieve that. And LincolnHealth has made a commitment to collaborate with ARC to transition people who start at ARC to a long-term relationship with a counselor.”

Law enforcement will begin outreach similar to that undertaken by Hasch about 10 years ago, when he began talking to people who initially came to the station in legal trouble, but also seemed to be struggling with drug abuse, he said.

“Once the officer has taken care of that end of it, I bring them in — we leave all that at the door — and I say, ‘I understand you have a problem. Are you willing to talk about it?’ I haven’t found anyone who has been unwilling,” Hasch said. “I’ve had many people reaching out to me for help. I said, ‘We’ve got to go after this differently than just arrests. I’ve been a cop for 23 years and that hasn’t solved it in that time.”

“I’ve learned that people aren’t seeking help until they’re ready, so we wanted to offer them something really concrete when they are ready,” Hasch said. “We don’t want to just say, ‘Don’t do drugs.’ We want to say, ‘These are the people who will help.’”