When Waldo County voters head to the polls on Nov. 8, they will not just decide who they want as their new sheriff — they will also decide how the sheriff’s office handles the opioid epidemic.
Democratic candidate Jason Trundy and Republican candidate Todd Boisvert both believe the opioid epidemic is one of Waldo County’s most pressing issues. But they fundamentally differ on how to solve it.
An increasing number of Waldo County residents have been dying from suspected or confirmed overdoses over the last four years.
Fatal overdoses, suspected and confirmed, have climbed in Waldo County from three in 2019 to 14 in 2021, according to a report from the Maine Drug Data Hub. Already 2022 is nearing last year’s total, with 10 deaths between January and May, the latest month for which data are available.
Boisvert, Searsport’s police chief, believes the way to stop substance use disorder is to go after the people distributing drugs in Waldo County.
“I believe you have to push them out of the county, the dealers,” Boisvert said. “If I can’t buy something, I’m not going to use it.”
But Trundy, the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office’s chief deputy, disagrees, saying the drug market will only dry up when there is no longer a clientele.
“As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will always be somebody willing to try to supply it,” he said.
Boisvert and Trundy believe that strengthening the sheriff’s office’s relationship with the Waldo County community is essential to get at the problem. Though again, it’s the implementation where they differ.
Boisvert said there is an opportunity to increase surveillance of drug activity by strengthening the relationship between community members and local law enforcement. By gaining their trust, community members would be willing to serve as informants when they see drug activity in their neighborhoods, he said.
Meanwhile, Trundy believes law enforcement and community members can band together to reach the people with substance use disorder. He believes partnerships with providers, organizations and re-entry services focused on treating substance use have a greater impact than going after the dealers.
Despite their many differences, Trundy and Boisvert solidly agree that sending people to jail simply for using drugs won’t cure them.
“If the fear of arrest was going to stop someone from using drugs, or to cure their mental illness, that would have happened a long time ago,” Trundy said.
Though Boisvert believes the sheriff’s office needs to focus on encouraging individuals with substance use disorder to get inpatient care, he isn’t clear on how to do that yet.
“When we initially use outpatient care … we’re throwing them right back into the environment that may be causing their abuse,” he said. “Nobody truly wants to be addicted. We have to encourage them and show them the benefits of not being addicted.”
The winner of the race will replace outgoing sheriff, Jeff Trafton, who is retiring after serving two terms.