PORTLAND — Steve Cotreau is not really the retiring type, but the program director at the Portland Recovery Community Center is moving on.
By the end of the month, Cotreau will be in Mount Desert Island with his husband. Leslie Clark, former chief executive of Greater Portland Health, will replace him.
“Leslie is really reactive, responsive and supportive of the community. It is comforting,” Cotreau said Sept. 8. “To leave here and walk away under any other circumstances, it would be much harder.”
Established in 2011 as part of the statewide Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, PRCC has gone from an initial 10,000 visits annually to more than 40,000 visits each year, Alliance Executive Director Mallory Shaughnessy said in a Sept. 6 press release.
In offices and meeting rooms at 468 Forest Ave., PRCC offers meetings, counseling and activities every day of the week, with peer-driven recovery at its core.
Cotreau and Clark have been in recovery from substance use disorders for about 30 years each. While Cotreau did not have the final say in who replaced him, he said Clark’s experience is critical to continuing PRCC’s work.
“It is absolutely essential. I don’t think you can run a peer recovery center without being a peer,” Cotreau said. “It is not about the person sitting here, it is about the comfort of the people who walk by and come in feeling akin to who is sitting here.”
Clark’s role will be expanding funding and outreach, she said.
“The next piece is building a sustainable ongoing business model, to take the good things that happen here and grow so it is more available to people,” Clark said.
She will set up a board of directors and wants it to have a majority, if not an entirety, of people in recovery.
Coutreau has been at PRCC from the start.
“I think one of my biggest strengths here was not to get in the way and let the community bloom and grow,” Coutreau said.
He was never entirely behind any scenes; his advocacy helped create the Rally for Recovery, celebrated for the fourth year at Deering Oaks Park on Sunday.
He helped the Scarborough Police Department establish Operation Hope in October 2015, which, through Sept. 1, had placed 275 people into opioid addiction treatment programs.
“It was desperation to help one fewer person die. I didn’t have any idea if it would be successful, but when you are falling off a cliff, you grab at anything,” Cotreau said.
Opioid overdose statistics remain grim. On Sept. 6, Dr. Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center said there were 185 overdose deaths in Maine through June 30.
That is eight fewer than last year, but still averaging one per day. Fentanyl, an opioid that can be mixed with or marketed as heroin, played a role in 61 percent of the deaths, Sorg said in her report to the state Office of the Attorney General.
At Greater Portland Health, Clark oversaw the transition of services associated with the Ryan White Grant administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the India Street Public Health Center.
Announced in early spring 2016 by City Manager Jon Jennings, the shift of services for patients with HIV and AIDS was contentious. Jennings said Greater Portland Health was better suited to provide and expand care. Opponents of the shift said city leaders underestimated the level of trust and sense of security patients found at India Street.
The transition took effect Jan. 1, but not before the city, Greater Portland Health and a patient advisory team worked through essential details. At the same time, the needle exchange and HIV/STD testing services remained on India Street.
“In that situation, we were just trying to make sure those important necessary services did not get lost,” Clark said.
Cotreau said Clark’s tenacity and work in the transition process are qualities that will benefit PRCC.
“Being fierce about the mission, that is what it is about,” Clark said.
Cotreau said his reward was found in PRCC results.
“There’s thousands of young people I met through here who are in recovery and leading amazing lives,” he said. “That is why it hits me so hard when we lose somebody. I know from personal experience what the possibilities are.”
Steve Cotreau, the departing PRCC program manager, said incoming Director Leslie Clark brings the advocacy and experience needed to grow the nonprofit.