Gordon Smith, the former Executive Vice President of the Maine Medical Association, was chosen as the state’s first Director of Opioid Response by Gov. Janet Mills in January. Photo by Fred J. Field.
Centerpiece

One of Gov. Janet Mills’ early initiatives was creating a position to combat Maine’s opioid epidemic and naming Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, as Director of Opioid Response.

As a follow-up to our Born to Drugs: Maine’s Most Innocent Victims series last fall, Pine Tree Watch interviewed Smith in late April and May, asking about his strategies to help Maine’s infants and children affected by the opioid crisis. Over the past five years in Maine, 1,630 people have died from drug overdoses, and nearly 5,000 babies have been born drug affected.

A Maine native, Smith, 67, is a graduate of the University of Maine and Boston College Law School. He began working as general counsel for the MMA in 1981. Since his appointment this winter, he has traveled the state to meet with medical experts and community coalitions.

The interviews with Smith have been edited for length and clarity:

Sea Change by Marina Schauffler

Facing a reckoning

Ironies, like onions, come in layers and can make you cry.

As I stared at a graphic showing an outline of Maine symbolically shifting down the East Coast (see figure), I had an unsettling sense of déjà vu. The image depicted how – a few decades hence – summers in Maine will feel like those in New York and, by 2070, could resemble those around the Chesapeake Bay.

I grew up enduring Maryland’s sauna-summers. At age 17, I fled north to Maine when high school ended, not even waiting for graduation.

Yet every year since, powered by rising CO2 emissions, Maine has been sliding toward those sultry summers I thought I’d escaped.

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The Maine Trust Project

Maine Trust Project: Dona Emerson

INSTALLMENT 11: KATHLEEN SWINBOURNE

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Topsham resident Kathleen Swinbourne resisted doing anything with and wanted to deny her psychic abilities for most of her life – until she got an enormous sign.

Get to Know Kathleen Swinbourne

Pine Tree Watch | The Maine Trust Project Installment 10: Bobby Bergeron

INSTALLMENT 10: BOBBY BERGERON

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For Bobby Bergeron, trust can depend a lot on where you live and how comfortable and confident you are with yourself.

Get to Know Bobby Bergeron

Maine Trust Project: Dona Emerson

INSTALLMENT 9: DONA EMERSON

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Dona Emerson picks up hitchhikers. Most people, especially women, have been schooled in the dangers of giving strangers a ride, and Dona was no exception. “My (85-year-old) mother,” she said, “would kill me if she knew how many I’ve picked up.”

And yet, she still does it.

Why? Because Dona Emerson understands the importance of reaching out to people to create connections, and she values the role of trust in that endeavor.

Get to Know Dona Emerson

Maine Trust Project: Deon Lyons

INSTALLMENT 8: DEON LYONS

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Deon Lyons has cancer. It’s advanced and the outlook is anything but cheery. But he’s not letting that get him down. His attitude is not surprising given one of his favorite words is “opportunity.”

“Opportunity” is a much better way of looking at what life has handed you then, say, “challenging,” which is the word most people would use to describe what he has faced over the course of his life.

Get to Know Deon Lyons

Maine Trust Project: Amanda Huotari

INSTALLMENT 7: AMANDA HUOTARI

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When physical comedian Amanda Huotari was about 10 years old, in her hometown of South Paris, she saw an ordinary man transform himself.

You could argue that this man – the late master mime artist Tony Montanaro – was anything but ordinary. But, alone on the stage, dressed totally in white, without props, there was nothing to suggest what was about to happen.

Before Amanda’s young and amazed eyes, and without uttering a word or sound, he morphed from human-ness to rooster-ness.

Get to Know Amanda Huotari

Maine Trust Project: Joseph Reagan

INSTALLMENT 6: JOE REAGAN

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Joe Reagan was just 22, a new graduate of Norwich University (a private military academy in Vermont) and had just completed 10 months of training as a second lieutenant in the Army when he arrived in Afghanistan for his first tour there with the 10th Mountain Division.

As a leader of a platoon of 28 men (women weren’t allowed in combat roles at the time) that scouted locations in advance of the rest of the division, he felt “extremely underqualified” for the role, he says. He was in a place that was unlike anything the Massachusetts native had experienced before.

Get to Know Joseph Reagan

Maine Trust Project: Myron M. Beasley

INSTALLMENT 5: MYRON BEASLEY

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When Myron Beasley moved to Maine 11 years ago to take a position teaching African American studies and American cultural studies at Bates College in Lewiston, he was determined to reach beyond the borders of the Bates campus to make connections with people in his new community.

As someone who has lived in and traveled to many places across the globe – Myron grew up in Israel, was schooled in Europe and the United States, and has done ethnographic field work in Haiti, Brazil, Morocco, and the United States, including here in Maine – he knows how to create community wherever he is.

Get to Know Myron M. Beasley

Maine Trust Project: Marie Harnois of Jackman

INSTALLMENT 4: MARIE HARNOIS

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Four years ago – during the “coldest December ever” – Marie Harnois found herself doing something she couldn’t have imagined before: installing hoses to collect sap from sugar maple trees.

If you didn’t count the time as a child when she’d helped a friend’s family with their 30 buckets, Marie had not run a maple sugaring business before, and yet, here she was trying to do just that – and freezing her fingers in the process.

Get to Know Marie Harnois
Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath

INSTALLMENT 3: JOE BLACK

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Joe Black is a man living his dream. With a light in his eyes, a quick smile and a sense of humor that invites you in, he stocks shelves and engages customers at Renys department store on Front Street in Bath. He’s been doing his dream job for more than 20 years and says it’s the perfect job for him.

“I’m a firm believer that there are different kinds of dreams,” he said. “Some people want to be rock stars. Some people … want to be president. These are big, huge dreams – and big, huge dreams are awesome – but there’s nothing wrong with little dreams.”

Get to Know Joe Black
Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath

INSTALLMENT 2: MIKE DOUGLAS

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Finding common ground and engaging in civil conversations about important issues facing our communities, our state, our country and our world can seem elusive, if not sadly impossible.

In our second installment of "The Maine Trust Project", we speak with Mike Douglas of Augusta, for whom trust is about wholeheartedly investing in relationships, believing he'll get out of them what he puts into them.

Get to Know Mike Douglas
Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath

INSTALLMENT 1: MARY BETTERLEY

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Every day, 83-year-old Mary Betterley and her border terrier Raymond, aka, The Mayor, walk down the hill from their condo in Damariscotta to Main Street. Having lived in town for 40 years, Mary is greeting or greeted all along her way by most of those who are out and about.

Trust, for Mary, is a default position – she trusts unless given a reason not to. This attitude extends even to taking a risk with her life, as she did at age 65, when she found herself placing her toes on the edge of Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge at A.J. Hackett’s Bungy Centre outside Queenstown, New Zealand.

Get to Know Mary Betterley

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