Michael has an illness as dangerous as any a young adult can face. This illness takes more lives than motor vehicle accidents and suicides, which topped the list of causes of death of young adults in the past. Michael’s disease is now a public health crisis in America, one that deserves bold actions; but, still, too little is being done to save the many young lives that are being needlessly lost.

In Maine alone, the number of people dying from drug addiction has more than doubled over the past five years and increased by 39 percent from 2015 to 2016 alone. Now, on average, one person dies of complications of drug addiction every day in Maine. This situation gets worse every day and far too little is being done to slow and stop these preventable deaths.

These figures are merely “statistics,” which some people refer to as “numbers with the tears wiped off.” These are your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, your friends and neighbors. People we love and cherish. One’s name is Michael.

Michael’s mother called me two months ago, weary and worried about his latest relapse into heroin use. He’d been using drugs for years but, like most people with addiction, tried to cover it up. He lived a few hours away but was now home wanting help. She called around but was unable to find any answers — so she called me.

He was asking for inpatient rehab, which I agreed would be best. Unfortunately, there is no inpatient rehab in midcoast Maine other than a single facility that charges $60,000 for the required 30-day stay, very far out of the reach of this family. In the state of Maine inpatient rehab facilities are scarce and typically have very long waiting lists. Michael needed help now. I suggested he try the local hospital, which has an inpatient unit to treat people for addiction complications. I thought perhaps there was something they could do to help.

Michael spent six hours in the emergency department and was sent home with a referral to a local drug treatment program affiliated with the hospital system. Michael would not admit that he was still using drugs but his mother knew that he was. He was seen at the outpatient drug treatment program a few times, then stopped attending. He felt it was not helpful to him. His mother called me again and I recommended several other programs in nearby counties.

Michael entered a second outpatient treatment program but also quit after just a few sessions. He felt the programs he’d tried were rigid and unresponsive to his particular needs. Again his mother called, even more weary and worried. Michael was clearly shooting up with heroin many times daily and she feared for his life.

My practice was at capacity and lacked services that others offered such as intensive outpatient counseling programs and case managers. Nevertheless, I agreed to give Michael a chance and saw him the next day.

Michael had been using drugs since his teens. Now he was nearly 30 years old. He was a likeable bear of a man, teetering on the edge of disaster. We discussed his history and his goals. He wanted to stop using drugs but they still had a solid hold on his life. From minute to minute, he shifted from comments about wanting to “recover” to comments about still wanting to use drugs. He had been shooting up with as much heroin as he could get into a syringe many times daily. He carried Narcan with him, just in case, but knew he could not save himself from an overdose if he passed out alone. He was well aware of the possibility of dying but seemed to dismiss that as a serious issue. He seemed destined to become another statistic, to the desperate fears of his mother.


I started him on several medications and referred him to an excellent substance abuse counselor who saw him several times weekly. I saw him daily, including making house calls on weekends.

Michael and his mother lived in a rural community where she refused to give him the keys to their car for fear he would use it to buy more drugs. After I’d seen him several times, he convinced his mother that she needed to take him to his drug dealer, to whom he had owed a large amount for a week’s supply of heroin before he’d come home. The dealer was now living in Michael’s apartment and could threaten Michael and his mother if he wasn’t paid. With trepidation, his mother finally agreed to taking him back to his apartment after trying to scrape together some funds to appease the dealer, even if it wasn’t the full amount. After the exchange took place, it became clear that Michael had spent that time injecting himself with more heroin and managed to hide some for the trip back home.

His therapist and I agreed that Michael was beyond our help. We found a rehab facility in Florida that would take him the next day if his mother could convince him to go.

Michael was clearly in the throes of drug cravings and couldn’t see the consequences of his actions. He wavered between denying that he had any problems and being agreeable to flying to Florida for help. Finally, she loaded him in the car and left for the airport. She was nervous that he would run off somewhere along the way to look for drugs but they finally made it and she returned home unsure what the future held. She knew that any time that Michael wanted, he could sign himself out of rehab.

At 6:57 p.m. last night, Michael’s mother called to tell me that he was about to board a plane back to Maine, after failing to complete the 30-day program. She was on her way to pick him up as soon as he landed to try to keep him from seeking his old dealer. The night before he and several other residents of the rehab facility climbed a fence to escape, buy and use some drugs and later returned to the rehab facility. Later that night, one of the men that Michael shared drugs with was rushed to the hospital and was pronounced dead of a drug overdose. Depressed over the loss of his friend, Michael decided it was time to come back to Maine. Michael’s mother was going to call me in the morning, Sunday, to let me know when I could come to his house to address next steps.

At 8:58 a.m., I received a text from Michael’s mother stating, “Things seem okay at the moment. Michael (as always) has a good story to tell. I so want to believe him.”

So, I am getting ready to see him. I am afraid Michael will continue to sabotage his recovery, his brain held hostage by a drug so powerful that he would give up everything in his life, including his life, to get more of it. I am afraid he will become another statistic but I will do all I can to pull him back from the edge of the abyss. Please join me in praying for Michael and his mother.

Michael is but one of thousands of people addicted to drugs in midcoast Maine. They all need our help. So, please join with Midcoast Recovery Coalition to do all we can to reduce the rate of drug addiction and its consequences in our community. There is so much that we need to do. We need everyone on board for this battle to save our children and their families from lifelong suffering and the all-too-frequent tragic and needless deaths.

This will take a village and is a battle we can’t afford to lose. Please join this fight. Visit midcoastrecovery.org. Thank you.