Sorry, but there’s no quick fix to “the drug problem in Bangor”

It’s Sunday morning and I’m at the Bagel Central standing in a long line. The gentleman in front of me is talking politics and he’s looking to involve me in the conversation. I’m doing everything I can to avoid eye contact. He turns to me, makes a bit of small talk, then abruptly asks, “What do you for a living?”

Having listened to his views on how all the world’s problems can be solved; I’m tempted to tell him that I’m a circus clown or the current governor of Maine. In my defense, I’d only had one cup of coffee and so I say, “I’m a mental health therapist and addictions counselor.” He makes a very strange sound that seems to signify, “Oh, it’s on!”

“What do you think we need to do about the drug problem in Bangor?” Before I can speak he continues, “It’s getting worse, right? It’s getting worse and worse and it’s all those welfare people and other criminals.” I have no interest in debating ignorance and so I simply say, “My job is to help people who are willing to work hard and get better.”

He’s shaking his head, “What percentage of people actually get better? And of those, how many could have done it on their own? What do you have for statistics to back up your work?”

Part of my brain says, “Hey asshole, I’m getting bagels here and not asking you for grant funding.” Fortunately, my wife has impressed upon me that it’s not good for business when I talk like that. So instead I say, “About ten percent of those who seek help attain long term sobriety.” I’m about to say that many more attain short term gains that often become long term progress, but he interrupts.

“Nothing anyone is doing is working. I’m going to go to City Hall Monday and complain. Something has to be done!” I’m picturing the poor clerk that gets to deal with him. He seems to believe that all it takes to find solutions is for enough people to complain. Fortunately I’m next in line. His final query is to demand what I think the solution is?

I meet his gaze and say, “Invest in every child you meet.”

There are no quick fixes. There are long term solutions and they’re about community – always have been, always will be. Supporting our neighbors with tax dollars isn’t enough to resolve this. Giving of our time and efforts can. Changing mindsets, changing attitudes, changing our approach to social problems is attainable through both grassroots efforts and private sector enterprise.

Grassroots:

— Neighborhood watch programs run by amazing people like Lisa Prescott. How is it possible that we don’t even know the names of those who live closest to us? There is minimal investment in community when we don’t know each other.  Efforts like these don’t just guard against crime – they bring us together in a way that’s been progressively absent for decades.

— Community Revitalization efforts deserve our support but more importantly, informal efforts to foster social responsibility in our communities is vital. Local expert: Pigeon

— Efforts to incorporate kinship ties into addressing the problems faced by families is a common sense approach overlooked by most with the notable exception of agencies like Families And Children Together

— Community efforts that increase stability through fellowship and service make total sense. Local expert: Ms. Thea Day.

Private Sector:

— Overlooked opportunities are many. If you need extremely hard working employees consider contacting those of us who work with homeless individuals, recovering addicts and alcoholics. We are in contact daily with folks who have incredible work ethics and simply need a second chance to be successful. Local expert: Casey Harris

— Maine needs more skilled workers. Encouraging enrollment in the one year certification programs through Maine’s community colleges is a huge potential return on investment. Professions that provide higher education provide student load payoffs to lure potential employees. Let’s do the same with this wide array of skilled professions.

— Greater Bangor needs transitional housing for folks coming out of rehabs and corrections. This is not a concept of subsidized housing but rather providing low cost, no frills, affordable housing that fosters community and abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

These are simply the musings of one person on a lazy Sunday. Traditional approaches will continue to yield traditional results. Anyone who wants to invest in outside of the box solutions has my support. If we’re going to make progress, we need to change direction.

This post first appeared on Recovery Rocks, a blog about Jim’s work in the mental health and addiction recovery therapy field. Keep up to date with his blog and sign up for his email newsletter.

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