Posted by Jake Bourdeau

Gordon Smith is Maine’s new Director of Opioid Response and he spoke with the Club on Friday about the position, and the status of the opioid crisis in Maine. The Director of Opioid Response is a newly created position in Governor Mills’s Administration, and the Director is responsible for the opioid response and outreach in the state. Mr. Smith was qualified for the position, not only by experience, being the Executive Vice President with the Maine Medical Association, but by helping the Governor’s team develop the 10-point Opioid Response Plan during the campaign.     

Currently Mr. Smith reports directly to the Governor’s office, has no employees, and he has the privilege to deliver the message of hope and recovery across the state. According to the Director, there is so much to be done on this complex problem in regards to prevention and to help people recover. If we are going to make headway towards helping people recover, he believes everyone in society needs to lend a hand. 

As the Director, Gordan has to communicate with police forces, medical organizations, the US Surgeon general, governmental agencies, other state agencies, and the public to increase awareness and help implement life-saving programs and policies.   

Part of his job is to also focus on the primary causes of addiction, which are hard to understand and address in the general public. The consensus is that the more or diverse trauma people have in their lives or childhood, they become, statistically speaking, exponentially more likely to abuse drugs. One approach is that if we can teach young people about the hazards of drugs, this may help them later in life. 

According to the Director, while the opioid related deaths per year were down last year, this statistic does not mean we should start thinking the end to the opioid crisis is near. Rather, this could mean the product on the street was just not as deadly as it was the year(s) before. In Maine, there is still more than one person a day dying from overdose, and 3 babies a day being born with drug dependencies. 

Some of the actions being implemented throughout the state to help reduce these statistics and include expanding syringe exchanges, implementing harm reduction strategies, making Narcan available in more locations, changing the stigma associated with drug addiction, and having people with addiction communicate with health care professionals and caregivers. The concept is that when people are addicted and more readily in contact with caregivers, they are more likely to ask or search for help. 

Mr.  Smith discussed the positive effects of more strictly regulating prescription opioid pain medicines. He also discussed how many physicians and surgeons are routinely contacting his office to determine how they can help reduce the use of pain medication or reduce the dosages provided. One recent development in surgical procedures is to apply localized anesthetic with longer lasting pain medications during or after surgery, and this approach may makes it less likely for a patients to need opioid pills or higher dosages of opioids following surgery. Mr. Smith noted that drug give-back programs are useful in removing readily abused drugs from society.

(L-R: President John Curran, Gordon Smith, Rusty Atwood and Lisa Hallee, Waterville Rotarian and member of the Governor’s Recovery Cabinet.)