Bangor will use a new, $200,000 grant to decide how to beef up efforts to reduce overdose deaths across Penobscot County, which has been disproportionately affected by the state’s ongoing and worsening opioid epidemic.
The city received the grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention after the state identified Penobscot County as one of five priority counties that have seen high rates of drug overdoses, said Jamie Comstock, health promotion manager at Bangor’s public health department.
While the city has received the grant, it’s expected to coordinate an effort focused on all of Penobscot County.
The city will use the grant to put together a group of leaders and community members with perspectives and ideas on reducing overdose deaths. That group can then help connect and strengthen existing overdose prevention efforts, such as Bangor’s overdose response team and peer recovery coaches, Comstock said.
The group will also identify other resources the city and county need to combat overdose deaths, according to Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long.
Some of the two-year grant will go toward training for first responders and others on the prevention of overdose deaths and related topics like stigma, the science of addiction and adverse childhood experiences, according to Long.
And some of the money will purchase naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, and pay for its distribution, Long said.
Comstock said she’s excited about the funding and believes it will help in Penobscot County. But she acknowledged the state’s opioid crisis isn’t going to be resolved quickly, as it has built up over years.
“We didn’t get here overnight, so there’s no way we’re going to solve this overnight,” she said. “Change is slow, but we’re not going to get there by not trying.”
The grant comes from funding the Maine CDC received in September 2021 from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Long said.
Penobscot County saw 71 overdose deaths in the first eight months of 2022, according to statistics maintained by the state and the University of Maine. That accounted for 15 percent of the state’s fatal overdoses, even though Penobscot County is home to only 11 percent of Maine’s population.
The number puts the county on track at least to match last year’s 106 overdose deaths.
Maine as a whole is on track to see the deadliest year yet of the opioid crisis, with 463 people dying of overdoses through the end of August.