The Forgotten Victims of Maine’s Opioid Epidemic

Date: 08/29/2019

Grant Will Build Community Collaboration to Support Child Victims

The effects of the opioid epidemic have been felt far and wide across the state of Maine, and several programs have been implemented to provide support for people with opioid use disorder and to restrict the prescribing of opioids. But there are victims of the opioid crisis who often go overlooked and underserved: children.

“This is an invisible population that often goes under the radar,” says Derek Hurder, who serves as Program Manager for Youth Victims of Crime at Penquis – Maine’s largest community action agency.

IMG_4497.jpg“A lot of times, children become victims of crime as a result of someone’s opioid abuse, usually through abuse, neglect or even trafficking,” Derek says. “Unfortunately, most of these kids who have substance abuse in their families are good at hiding it, and for good reason. They have attachments to their families and don’t want to jeopardize those. But it adds to the trauma in the child’s life.”

Now, thanks to a $600,000 grant Penquis recently received from the U.S. Department of Justice, Penquis is spearheading an expansive collaboration with partners throughout the region like Northern Light Health to help these forgotten victims of the opioid crisis. Hurder is leading the effort.

“Right now, we’re building the framework for what this is going to look like,” he says. “We’re trying to figure out how to identify these youth and determine what kind of interventions are going to work best. Ultimately, we’re driving toward building a coordinated community response.”

This collaborative approach centers on creating a cohesive network of resources that provide a child with various access points, Hurder says. Through the program, community members will identify existing service gaps and build a response that uses a range of interventions from traditional therapy to recreational activities. Then, by raising awareness in the community of what services are available, kids will have greater access to the help they need, Hurder says.

The seamless approach is designed to serve as a catch-all net, addressing gaps in services, so no child falls through the cracks.

Throughout the summer, Hurder will be conducting community outreach and bringing stakeholders from healthcare, law enforcement, social services, school districts, foster parents, and service agencies to the table to create this robust network of resources and also sitting at that table--the kids themselves.

“The ones to ask what the kids need are the kids,” Hurder says. “We’re trying to incorporate them to help inform the process.”

The end goal is a comprehensive model that provides interventions and therapies to children from birth to age 18 who are victims of opioid-related crimes. Hurder expects to launch direct interventions, in collaboration with Northern Light Health and other partners, by next year.

“We’re looking forward to shining some light on this and coming together as a community to support these individuals,” Hurder says. “When we have the opportunity to work together to reach out and mitigate some of these through treatment for trauma, we’re helping these children build resilience and a bright future.”

Pictured: Derek Hurder, Program Manager for Youth Victims of Crime at Penquis