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Advocates celebrate funding for recovery community centers, say it will save lives


Advocates celebrate funding for recovery community centers, say it will save lives

Apr 19, 2024 | 12:26 pm ET
By Evan Popp
Advocates celebrate funding for recovery community centers, say it will save lives
Rep. Ambureen Rana (center) stands with Courtney Gary-Allen (left) and Tess Parks (right), who both work for Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, outside the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee room. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Ambureen Rana)

Lawmakers and advocates praised action taken by the Maine Legislature in the final hours of this year’s session to pass and fund a bill creating a sustainable revenue source for the more than 20 recovery community centers in the state.

Late Wednesday, LD 1714 received funding from the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, the powerful panel of lawmakers that has purview over state spending. The measure was then enacted by the full Legislature in a bipartisan vote in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

As amended, the bill allocates $2 million annually to support the operations of recovery community centers. The money will come from a fund that receives tax dollars from adult-use cannabis sales and will begin flowing to the centers on July 1, 2025. 

Recovery community centers are independent non-profits led by local community members that provide non-clinical, peer-support services for people with substance use disorder. That can include recovery support groups and coaching, skill-building work, harm reduction activities, and recovery-related outreach efforts. 

Advocates say the centers are a crucial tool in addressing addiction across the state. During a public hearing on the measure last year, Kate Byrne of Bangor told lawmakers that she knows this from firsthand experience. 

“To be blunt, recovery centers save lives,” she said, adding, “I know because places like the Portland Recovery Community Center and the [Bangor Area Recovery Network] have saved my life time and again.”

However, proponents of the centers also noted that many of the facilities operate on “shoestring budgets and hopes and dreams.” 

Rep. Ambureen Rana (D-Bangor) introduced LD 1714 last year to help rectify that issue. After final passage, the bill now goes to Gov. Janet Mills for consideration. 

“[This] was the result of two years of grassroots organizing and advocacy by Maine’s recovery community to ensure that recovery community centers will have a sustainable funding source for many years to come,” Rana said in a statement. 

“When I think about recovery community centers, I think about the Bangor Area Recovery Network, located just across the river from where I live in Bangor,” she added. “I think about their slogan, ‘Supporting recovery is a community responsibility.’ The passing of LD 1714 confirms this. It is our collective responsibility to sustain these centers.”

Those who run recovery community centers also praised the passage of the bill. 

“My center has faced significant challenges covering basic operating costs, especially during harsh winters where heating expenses can strain budgets,” said Kelly Cookson of Save A Life Recovery Community Center of Lincoln. “While we are grateful for the support from federal and state administrations, funding gaps have threatened our ability to maintain essential services. The decision to fund LD 1714 has allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief.”

During debate on the bill in the Maine House of Representatives Wednesday night, Rep. David Boyer (R-Poland) agreed about the need to fund these centers but expressed concern that drawing from the adult-use cannabis fund would deter the state from providing tax relief to those farmers. 

“The cannabis industry is asking for relief and by funding it this way we are putting that relief in jeopardy,” Boyer argued.

The approval of LD 1714 comes as the recovery community has continued to call on state leaders to do more to address Maine’s overdose crisis. While Maine saw a reduction in the number of drug overdose deaths last year, a staggering 607 people still lost their lives.

In another effort to tackle the crisis, advocates this year pushed for a bill that would have decriminalized personal possession of illicit drugs and established at least one center in each county to provide urgent 24/7 services for those having a substance use or mental health crisis. Proponents argued that instead of criminalizing drugs — which results in people being imprisoned and makes it harder for them to access treatment — the state should view addiction as a public health issue.

However, the Legislature instead turned that bill into a study of the impact of drug decriminalization. 

Recovery leaders have also advocated for opening overdose prevention centers in Maine — sites where people can administer previously obtained drugs under medical supervision as a way to safeguard against overdoses. Mills signed a bill last year to study the use of such centers. 

In the meantime, Courtney Gary-Allen, organizing director of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, said passing LD 1714 is a significant step forward. 

“While there is always more work to be done, this victory reaffirms our commitment to advocating for the resources and support needed to ensure that individuals and families facing addiction have access to the help they deserve,” she said.