A woman photographs memorial lanterns for overdose victims on a bridge in downtown Caribou. Credit: Hannah Catlin / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Two Maine community health organizations have been awarded million-dollar grants to combat the opioid crisis from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program.

Aroostook Mental Health Center, based in Presque Isle, and Healthy Acadia, based in Ellsworth, will receive $1 million each to create new intervention programs to prevent opioid abuse and overdose.

The Rural Communities Opioid Response Program awarded $78 million total to grantees from 35 states. The full value of the grant will be distributed to organizations over a three-year span.

Maine is on track to have its deadliest year of the opioid epidemic yet — between January and July, 360 Mainers died of overdose. 2020 was the deadliest year of the epidemic, and claimed 502 lives in Maine.

In Aroostook County in particular, volunteer organizations and families of overdose victims say there  aren’t enough resources in the region for people to make full recoveries from substance use disorder.

Aroostook Mental Health Center’s award was announced Wednesday by U.S. Sens.Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as U.S. Rep. Jared Golden. The legislators cosigned a letter this February to support AMHC’s application for funding.

“This vital funding will help educate Northern communities on the dangers of drug and opioid use, and provide the people of Aroostook County with the accessible services they need to combat this public health emergency,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Last year, AMHC won a $200,000 planning grant from the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program to seek community feedback on what new resources were needed to address the opioid crisis in northern Maine.

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.