Falmouth embarks on community approach to addiction

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FALMOUTH — A regional organization dedicated to preventing and reducing youth substance use is working with the town, the Greater Portland Council of Governments and other community groups to formulate a local response to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Earlier this month, the town joined in a pilot program designed by GPCOG to create an action plan to address opioid use on a regional basis, which Beth Blakeman-Pohl, program director of Casco Bay CAN, touched on when she gave a presentation about the organization’s work at the Feb. 11 Town Council meeting.

She said the goal was to “give councilors a sense of who we are and what we are doing in the community.”

Casco Bay CAN, which stands for Create Awareness Now, serves the communities of Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, Freeport, Gray, New Gloucester and Pownal.

In terms of its work around the opioid crisis, Blakeman-Pohl said Casco Bay CAN will be a key player in a public forum planned for 7 p.m. March 13 at Falmouth Elementary School. The event will give Falmouth residents an opportunity to learn about the issue and have input into the action plan.

The aim of the forum is to understand “the root causes of opioid misuse and then develop strategies that have proven effective in other communities,” according to the GPCOG website. “This project is unique in that it takes advantage of the ability of municipal leaders to champion a comprehensive approach to the crisis.”

Along with local leaders, the Greater Portland Council of Government effort also includes Michael Sauschuck, who is the state’s new public safety commissioner,  and Gordan Smith, the new director of opioid response.

Blakeman-Pohl said what sets Casco Bay CAN apart is that it works with a variety of groups and organizations, from businesses to libraries to law enforcement and schools to churches, to get its message out and to provide critical information on youth substance use.

The idea, she said, is “to support an open dialogue around the issues of underage … substance use.”

Overall, Casco Bay CAN works to provide information about trends in youth substance use, while offering a variety of resources and a list of services and assistance programs within the local community.

According to the latest available data, for instance, local teens still drink alcohol at higher rates than they use other substances, but marijuana is a close second.

Also, since the last Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Survey was administered two years ago, vaping and marijuana edibles have become urgent issues for area youth, said Blakeman-Pohl.

“As a coalition, Casco Bay CAN approaches underage drinking and drug use as public health problems,” the website states. “We (also) identify and reduce environmental conditions that increase the risk of youth substance use.”

The organization accomplishes this by focusing on community-level regulations, media messaging, and accessibility, the website adds. “We have demonstrated that when a community comes together to prevent youth substance use, positive change happens.”

Blakeman-Pohl said Casco Bay CAN is also always open to suggestions from the community. “We want to know how we can help you and what we can do (to make a difference),” she said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

A table presented to the Falmouth Town Council by Casco Bay CAN on Feb. 11 shows alcohol and marijuana were the substances of choice for local youth the last time the Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Survey was administered.

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