Cumberland County Earns Grant to Build on Successful Substance Use Diversion Programs

operation hopePORTLAND -- The Maine State Department of Public Safety has awarded more than $365,000 to Cumberland County, to develop the “Pathways of Hope” program across the region.

The Scarborough Police Department in partnership with Portland Recovery Community Center (PRCC), launched Operation HOPE in 2015 as a response to the growing number of overdose deaths in Southern Maine, and a desire for law enforcement to be a part of helping people find treatment and recovery. Operation HOPE was so successful that people from all over Cumberland County and the State arrived in Scarborough, seeking support and resources through the program. 

The Pathways of Hope program, now managed by the Cumberland County Public Health Department, is a continuation and adaptation of that initiative.  

In 2022, there were more than 2,000 drug overdoses in Cumberland County and 130 overdose deaths, the highest of any county in the state. People released from prison or jail to the community are up to 40 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than the general population, especially within the first few weeks after reentering the community. 

A proven strategy for lowering risk of drug overdose death and improving public safety among people at risk for being in the criminal justice system or formerly incarcerated is to intercept and divert people away from the criminal justice system and into community services that meet their treatment, recovery, and housing needs. In partnership with the Portland Recovery Community Center and behavioral health liaisons within police departments across Cumberland County, the Pathways of Hope program serves people in Cumberland County with substance use disorders and high risk of involvement in the criminal justice system by connecting them with housing and treatment services as an alternative to the criminal justice system.

Pathways of Hope funds support a Resource Navigator based in the Portland Recovery Community Center, located at 102 Bishop St. in Portland. This key position will work directly with people with substance use disorders who are at risk of justice involvement to identify their needs and connect them to timely and appropriate resources in the community, including housing and treatment, and open pathways of recovery.

"We are proud to partner with Cumberland County to help people with substance use disorder obtain treatment and recovery housing,” said Leslie Clark, executive director of Portland Recovery Community Center. “The need is greater than ever.  People seeking help with addiction can come to PRCC and we will help them navigate treatment options. We are grateful for the County’s support, which is helping meet this critical need and undoubtedly save lives.”

The Pathways of Hope program is strengthened by partnerships with police departments across Cumberland County and Behavioral Health Liaisons embedded within those departments who interact with and divert people with SUD to the Portland Recovery Community Center.

The grant is the latest in a series of awards to the Cumberland County Public Health Department, which in only its second full year has already established itself as a significant partner in regional health programming. The Department drafted a four-year Community Health Improvement Plan with the input from dozens of municipal, non-profit and service providers in the area.  The Plan serves as a guidance document for goals and collaboration on public health initiatives county-wide and provides priorities for the work of the new department. In an effort to meet those priorities, the department applied for and was recently awarded funding from the state to manage the Maine Prevention Network in Cumberland County, a program to provide tobacco and substance use prevention services and promote healthy eating and active living. 

The department also launched a new collaborative plan to improve children’s access to dental health and a pilot project with several towns to create a behavioral health emergency response program.