On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy proposed that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Eight years later, Kennedy’s vision was realized through vision, strong leadership and national commitment to this incredibly ambitious goal.

As of March 24, 2017, America faces a challenge far greater than beating the Russians to the moon: In the words of Dr. Mark Fourre, CEO of Coastal Healthcare Alliance, “It’s become an enormous issue, not only from a financial standpoint, but the impact that it has on families, in their personal lives, as well as the loss of people of all ages that are related to the opiate crisis,” he said. “And that’s … begun to cut into … the entire fabric of our community, and that impacts our commerce as well as our day-to-day functioning.”

While Dr. Fourre’s comments were specific to the midcoast, this is clearly a state and a national crisis.

In this week’s Portland Press Herald, a 10-part series is unfolding called “Lost: Heroin’s Killer Grip on the People of Maine.” Each day, the series explores a different facet of Maine’s heroin epidemic: how some families suffer multiple overdose deaths; how labeling addiction as a moral failing weakens our responses; how one York County town has been ravaged by heroin; how women face a perilous lack of support and treatment programs; and how a failure to invest in treatment fed a rising death toll.

The state of affairs in Knox County seems as inadequate as in any other place in America. One out of every 10 babies here is born with “neonatal abstinence syndrome,” which is a nice way of saying they are born in a state of drug withdrawal. Twenty-five percent of Knox County teenagers are using drugs. The jail’s inmates almost all suffer from drug addiction and receive little to no help. As the death rate from drug overdoses climbs in Knox County, as it does in the rest of Maine, one has to ask: “Where is the outcry?”

In Knox County, there is an absence of strong leadership and a plan, such as JFK’s, to state, “We choose to go to the Moon! ... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade ... not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard ... because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.” 

To choose not to step up to our challenge now is to put an entire generation of our children at risk.

Time is past due for all of Knox County’s leaders including government, churches, businesses, schools, civic organizations and truly every single person in our community to commit themselves to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of successfully reducing the rate of drug addiction and the many terrible consequences it causes in our community.

In the coming months, the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition will ask all organizations and individuals in Knox County to come together in a series of meetings to map out our commitment — and to take action as soon as possible. Stay tuned. We have a lot of work to do.

For those who choose to get involved now, please contact the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition at info@midcoastrecovery.org or call 701-1182. There are opportunities now to help get to winning this war on drug addiction. We need all hands on deck if we are to make a difference.