New substance use recovery center helps fill a need in St. John Valley

2 weeks ago

FORT KENT, Maine — The St. John Valley now has its own substance use recovery center. Before 1st Mile Active Recovery in Fort Kent opened earlier this year, valley residents seeking counseling and other services had to drive about an hour to Caribou. 

The facility, located at 229 West Main Street, will host its grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 17.

The center opens amid northern Maine’s ongoing struggle with substance use disorder. Aroostook County had 447 nonfatal and 39 fatal overdoses in 2023, according to Danielle Forino, who founded the Fort Kent center, said that substance use disorder is a widespread issue in the region that has affected nearly all community members in some way.

“We feel like there is not a family that isn’t affected by it, whether it’s a child, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle, everybody knows someone that is either struggling or has struggled in the past,” she said.

Since the facility had its soft opening in early February, it has served over 120 people. In that short time, Forino said they have also gained over 1,200 followers on Facebook across the state and beyond who have shared their support.

Forino said the center not only offers services for people in recovery, but for others affected and any recovery allies. She said the facility will have recovery coaches on site during open hours, and that anyone is welcome to schedule an appointment. 

“Recovery coaches can work with affected others as well as people that are in recovery, or even just contemplating recovery,” she said.

The center hosts narcotics anonymous meetings on Tuesday evenings, and Forino said that in June they will begin hosting SMART Recovery meetings. SMART Recovery helps individuals manage addictive and problematic behaviors through rational emotive behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Forino said one volunteer is also offering faith-based recovery meetings.

The center does not provide clinical services, however, Forino said that she and volunteers can help people obtain the services they need.

“We also help people who are looking for sober houses, if they’re looking to get into a detox center, and if they’re looking for literature,” she said.

The site offers Narcan, which can be used to treat narcotic overdoses. They also offer bags with harm reduction materials such as fentanyl test strips. Forino said they are partnering with another agency and hope to eventually host Narcan training.

The center also has weekly community meals on Friday.

“At the open house, since our weekly meals are on Friday, we will have volunteers that are going to be cooking hamburgers and hotdogs,” she said. “And we have volunteers that will make salads and desserts. So we’ll provide a meal to the entire community, whoever wants to come and take advantage of that.”

She said they also purchase pizza before every NA meeting, and that people are also welcome to stop by early and socialize before these meetings if they choose. And by opening up the facility to all members of the community, Forino hopes to end or reduce the stigma associated with recovery programs.

“We want people to be able to see exactly what a community recovery center is without feeling like someone is going to watch them walk in and think that they must be using substances,” she said.

Forino said she was influenced to open the recovery center after losing her son to substance use. 

“When my son had opened up to me about his use I immediately got to work trying to help him, and I just found that there was such a lack of resources. And it’s quiet. There’s this huge stigma that there’s something wrong with him, maybe there’s something wrong with me, as a parent, that led him to this situation,” she said.

Forino said her son had asked her about eventually opening a sober house in the area, since she owns a real estate business.

“But unfortunately, he passed away while he was at a sober house out of state,” she said. “And I, in my grief, decided to attend an event put on by AMHC. And I met Erik Lamoreau, who helped start the recovery center in Caribou.”

From there, Forino worked to open the 1st Mile Active Recovery Center. And though the center is hosting its grand opening on Friday, it had its soft opening earlier this year in February. 

She said the community reception has been mostly positive, but that some are still worried about being seen walking into the building, despite its discreet entrance. Many in the community have offered to help with food, and some business owners have offered food at discounted prices because they support the cause.

“Overall, I think it’s been good,” she said. “And everyone has been supportive.”

This story was updated to include how many people have been served by the center.