Link for Hope: Combating drug, alcohol abuse in the local community

9 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — How does one combat a growing drug and alcohol problem when so many have simply become complacent on the topic?
That is the question members of the “Link for Hope Coalition” are struggling to find an answer to as the group finds itself in a seemingly uphill battle on educating the public on the harmful effects of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as the tragedy of teen suicide.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015 from 6-8 p.m. at the Center for Community Health Education at Houlton Regional Hospital, Link for Hope members will gather to discuss new ways it can fight the complacency that seems to be affecting the Shiretown, according  to Becky Miller, one of the group’s spokespeople.
The Link for Hope Coalition is a community-based coalition whose vision and purpose is to promote the health, safety, and quality of life for all youth, families, and communities in southern Aroostook.
It began the Shiretown in December 2002 as a “think tank” for parents and local doctors who were concerned about substance use and suicide in the greater Houlton area. The group was initially called “The Missing Link,” as those involved searched for the link that causes people to turn to drugs and alcohol, and why that path often lead to suicide.
The group opted to change its name to “Link for Hope” after the death of Roger Howland, a 20-year-old Houlton resident. The name change was suggested by his father. The group has undergone many changes, but has remained in place since then working on the health of the community and families.
The concept behind Link for Hope is that there are a number of “links” to help a person. Those links include: law enforcement, faith community, parent, social service, health care, business and education.
“All of these links are supposed to be working in their particular area to combat this problem,” Miller explained.
“Different links are also impacted in different ways,” added Trudy O’Bar, a member of the group. “Business cannot find employees that are reliable because of substances. Educators are seeing students who are not able to participate because they are stressed, didn’t eat or are concerned because their parents are addicts. All of those things come into play.”
“The structure of Link for Hope is that (drugs and alcohol abuse) is not a problem for law enforcement or the schools,” Miller said. “It is a problem for the community.”
The mission of the Link for Hope Coalition is to enhance the quality of life in southern Aroostook by reducing problems related to alcohol and other drug use and teen suicide. Like most groups, attendance started out strong, but dwindled over the years to the point where Link for Hope has only a handful of members remaining. For every link, there is supposed to be a chairperson, and those individuals try to meet once a month. Unfortunately, the number of chairpeople has dwindled dramatically in recent years.
“The (drug) problem, here in the Shiretown, is not going away. In fact, it may even be increasing,” Miller said. “Apathy is what is killing our community.”
“That (apathy) is actually something we as a coalition face,” added O’Bar. “Unless there is a big arrest, death or teen suicide … something big that grabs the headlines,  people are complacent. We try to address things that are timely and address the things the community needs.”
O’Bar said one of their goals is to bring greater education to the general public that drug issues do not have to be accepted as “the norm” just because they are in other areas of the state.
To report suspected drug activity in your area, call Maine Drug Enforcement Agency 207-532-5169 or Aroostook County Crime Stoppers 1-800-638-tips (8477). For more information on Link for Hope, email: LinkForHopeMaine@gmail.com.