Open Door Recovery Center’s closure after 35 years demonstrates that sometimes it’s not only the individuals battling addiction who are in crisis, but the organizations that serve them too.
Open Door has been on the front lines of the drug epidemic in Hancock County. The need for treatment for substance-use disorder is greater than ever before. There were 418 drug-induced deaths in Maine in 2017, up 11 percent over the previous year. The vast majority of fatal overdoses involved at least one opioid. And there are other victims of the opiate epidemic.
Between 2013 and 2017, 4,877 babies were born dependent on opiates or other drugs, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS also reports that 33 percent of child-abuse victims have parents who are drug users. Nationally, the percentage of babies who were removed from their homes as a result of parental alcohol or drug addiction nearly doubled between 2010 and 2016, from 24.7 percent to 46.1 percent. Research has found that children of parents with substance-use disorders are at greater risk of physical, mental and behavioral problems than other children. When children have to be removed from their parents’ care, the state’s overburdened foster care system has struggled to find placements.
Whenever possible, children belong with their parents in a stable, safe environment. That’s something parents battling substance-use disorder are often desperate, but unable to provide.
Enter Hills House, a residential program Open Door has operated since 2016. There, pregnant women and mothers with substance-use disorder could live with their children while getting treatment. The program enabled dozens of women to keep their families intact while doing the hard work of recovery. Now the four women and their children currently living there will have to move, which can only be traumatic. These are individuals who have had enough trauma in their lives.
Recognized as a mental health illness, opiate-use disorder is notoriously difficult to treat. It changes a person’s brain. Relapses are common. Treatment is expensive, but not as expensive as the alternative — often jail time. Every dollar invested in treatment yields a return of $4 to $7 in reduced crime and criminal justice costs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Tally in estimated savings related to health care, and total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1. Then there are the lives saved, and it’s impossible to put a price on that.
We need more drug treatment programs, not less, employing a variety of methods, and we need to support parents battling addiction, not shame them. We need to open doors, not close them.