Opioid Panel Says First Step in Fighting Addiction is Recognizing It's a Disease

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) A lot of Mainers have been affected by the state's opioid crisis.

Photo: OIGatHHS / youtube

Many say the attitude of individuals, the state, and even the nation is switching from blaming the addicted to recognizing it's a disease.

On Tuesday Maine Supreme Court Justice Leigh Saufley cited in her State of the Judiciary address that on average 1 Mainer dies every 21 hours from an overdose.

In her speech she said, "People are dying, families are hurting, and communities feel helpless."

Doctor Trip Gardner, Chief Psychiatric Officer at Penobscot Community Health Care says, "Addiction is a real brain disease. It's a chronic disease. It's very common and we have to start treating it like it's a real disease."

He says addiction affects different parts of the brain making people think they need opioids to survive.

He says, "The drug has created damaged circuits in the brain, so one of those circuits is the same drive that we use to breathe, to eat, to drink water. We don't let anything get in the way of those things we need to survive. The drug damages that system so that that system thinks the drug is needed to survive."

A panel of lawmakers, health officials, and law enforcement spoke at a Bangor Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast, all repeating the same message, the first step in fighting this epidemic is the recognition of addiction as a disease.

Patty Hamilton, Bangor Public Health Director says, "We need to continue to talk about it like we do any other chronic disease, whether it's breast cancer or lung disease. They are all killing people and they all warrant our attention and this is much like those other diseases."

Gardner says, "I think more people are accepting that it's a disease. At a superficial level, I'm not really sure that they accept it's a disease the same as say diabetes."

Panel members say this slow shift in perspective is a form of progress in fighting this epidemic.

Hamilton says, "Just the recognition of the problem as a disease as a chronic disease and the need to treat it like that is progress."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call the Maine Crisis hotline, 211, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.