The University of Maine has been awarded a $35,000 grant from the U.S. State Department to fund the development of an ongoing faculty-led study abroad program focused on political science and criminal justice in partnership with the Universidade Catolica Portuguesa in Lisbon, Portugal.
Students in this immersive, experiential program will study Portugal’s innovative and path-defining approach to their 1990s opioid and overdose crisis in contrast to the path followed in the U.S. Rather than strictly punitive approaches, since 2001, the Portuguese state’s response to possession of illicit substances for personal use has prioritized opening pathways to treatment, reduction in use and harm reduction, ensuring the safety and well-being of people who continue to use drugs. The innovative approach has become a model for countries seeking an evidence-based, public health approach to confronting substance use disorder.
This three-week summer course will examine the opioid crisis in comparative perspective. Students will learn firsthand from those involved in this alternative approach, including federal law enforcement; public health, public policy and social workers; mobile outreach teams and more.
Rob Glover, a UMaine associate professor of political science, and Karyn Sporer, UMaine associate professor of sociology, will create and lead the program in close consultation with partners at the UMaine Study Abroad Office and UCP.
“Like many communities in the U.S., Maine has faced the devastating impacts of the opioid crisis, which have only been exacerbated by COVID-19,” says Glover. “Maine is experiencing an overdose crisis that claimed at least 627 lives in 2021, a 21 percent increase over the prior year. Initial data suggest that 2022 will be even more deadly. Portugal’s innovative approach to treating substance use disorder as a public health crisis as opposed to a criminal issue presents a compelling model to research, understand and emulate.”
Beyond its substantive merits, this faculty-led program presents an affordable alternative to semester-long study abroad opportunities in more expensive destinations. Portugal remains significantly less expensive than other popular European study abroad destinations like Ireland, France or Italy. Financially, the experience is within reach of students who would find the costs of living abroad for several months prohibitive.
“This program will engage with an innovative and critically important topic, while simultaneously expanding study abroad options to those otherwise unable to participate,” says Glover. “Research has consistently shown that financial circumstances can be an impediment to studying abroad. Schools with greater proportions of lower-income and first-generation college students, such as UMaine, often see lower rates of participation than other types of institutions. However, this program will create a lower-cost opportunity for a shorter duration than a full semester abroad, opening up the transformative benefits of study abroad to more UMaine students.”