2017-04-06 / Editorial

Is a recovery program worth it?

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

Only about 10 percent of people who are sick with a substance use disorder get treatment. However, many who are struggling with this very difficult disease are either currently in or have spent time in our county jails. Our sheriffs and their dedicated staff of corrections officers work incredibly hard to help people who serve time find a beginning on the road to recovery. However, busy corrections officers are not often well positioned to complete that process, and sick people go back to their lives outside of jail.

At the same time, operating a jail facility is expensive. The average cost per year per inmate is about $46,000, much of which is covered by your local property taxes. It is therefore in the greatest public financial interest, not to mention compassion toward the individual, to help get people out of jail quickly. However, if someone is not genuinely recovered from a substance use disorder – typically a lengthy, intense healing process that requires a dedicated treatment program – they are quite likely to commit another offense and return to jail. This recidivism causes additional unfortunate circumstances and costs to families and communities.

That’s why, together with Sen. Justin Chenette of Saco, I am cosponsoring “LD377: An Act To Create a County Jail Drug Rehabilitation and Treatment Grant Program.” This legislation would provide something that is sorely missing at our county jails today: funding for dedicated treatment and recovery facilities. Through this program, grant funding would be provided for jails to build treatment beds on site and help break the costly, damaging cycle of recidivism.

However, these programs are not without cost. If implemented and with a successful application, the new grant program would likely be used to develop a new treatment facility at Layman Way at the York County Jail in Alfred. That isn’t free, and it will raise your property taxes, at least a little bit. The question we need to ask ourselves is if that is a good investment.

If we look at the big picture and the long term, it can be argued that this investment makes sense. There’s an ancient Greek proverb, “A wise man plants a tree whose shade he will never sit under.” Nearly 400 people across the great state of Maine died from overdoses in 2016. Emergency responders used Naloxone to revive a sick person 2,380 times. And most experts believe this epidemic hasn’t peaked yet. If just 10 people are kept out of jail for a year, looking only at the numbers and not even including the other costs of addiction like an increased crime rate, the investment will pay off. However, our tax bills are stressed enough, and if it’s not a proverb, it should be: “You can’t get blood from a stone.”

The question is, is this a wise investment, and would you be willing to support it? I’d like to hear your opinion at martin.grohman@legislature.maine.gov or 283-1476.

Rep. Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford) is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature. Outside the legislature, he is chairman of the Solid Waste Commission in Biddeford, and the owner of a small company called Hellocycle which does alkaline battery recycling by mail.

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