"I know I'm preaching to the choir," Waldo County Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton said to a small crowd that included representatives of several social service organizations, a state prosecutor, a minister and two doctors — people who, not long ago, wouldn't be described as attending the same church.

The opioid epidemic changed all that. On June 14, the Sheriff's Office, Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, Seaport Community Health Center, Greater Bay Area Ministerium, Volunteers of America of Northern New England and Maine Adult Community Corrections signed on to a new collaborative effort called Waldo County Recovery Committee.

At a ceremonial launch, at which representatives signed a pledge to work together, the group outlined its goals to provide a deeper understanding of addiction as a mental illness, improve access to treatment, reduce the stigma of addiction, support families affected by substance abuse and divert people with substance abuse disorder and mental illness away from the criminal justice system and toward medical treatment and support.

Behind the broad mission statement and forgettable name, WCRC makes some important changes in how addicts could be treated on at least one end of the criminal justice system, where health and public safety officials historically have worked in isolation.

Dr. David Loxterkamp of Seaport Community Health Center described it as working in "silos." Historically, the separation was particularly wide between doctors and police, he said.

Under the new program, Seaport practitioners will be able to treat addicts during the last month of their incarceration at the Reentry Center in Belfast. During this time, they will be able to give opioid blockers and narcotics for withdrawal symptoms — typically taken together in the dual-purpose drug Suboxone.

Previously, doctors could see incarcerated addicts before they were released, but they couldn't dispense medicine. As a result, even after long stretches behind bars, many relapsed before seeking help, often one or two weeks after they were released.

Deaths in Maine from prescription painkillers and illicit narcotics, including heroin and fentanyl, quadrupled from 1999 to 2013 and numbered 418 last year, according to statistics provided by WCRC. In the absence of "medication-assisted treatment," as it is known, 20 percent of addicts overdose in within 60 days of their release.

Doctors involved with WCRC will continue to see addicts and prescribe medicine as necessary after their release. Loxterkamp said some medical practices have shied away from dealing with addicts in an attempt to avoid problems that follow addiction. But that's starting to change, he said.

"What we're realizing over time is that they're there for help — no different than any other patient with a chronic disease," he said.

In Lincoln County, a similar collaboration between law enforcement and social service agencies is making some headway.

Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde, who attended Thursday's signing, said Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset already allowed inmates to receive medicine to treat addiction, but incarcerated addicts lacked services after they got out.

Today, the program includes weekly meetings in Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Waldoboro and Boothbay Harbor for people affected by substance abuse. In the week before the WCRC resolution, Labombarde said 79 people attended at the four locations, and another 24 inmates at Two Bridges Regional Jail are in the program.

"This is just an amazing program," he said. "It's grassroots. It just grows and grows and grows."

Labombarde believes the new services in Lincoln County have resulted in fewer relapses and repeat drug offenses, and despite costing some money, are cheaper in the long term. WCRC is being funded from Waldo County's community corrections fund.

Dr. Tim Hughes, who co-founded Seaport Community Health Center with Loxterkamp, recently started a similar group in Belfast for people affected by drug addiction and its sometimes bumpy overlap with the criminal justice system.

Hughes said he wasn't sure what he was getting into when he started the group, which meets Fridays from noon to 1 p.m. at Belfast Free Library. As was the case in Lincoln County, there was no roadmap in Belfast for how to approach the opioid epidemic, but the need for something was obvious, he said.

Hughes spent the first two meetings reading a book in an empty room, but it wasn't long, he said, before people started coming, often from several towns away.

On June 15, the group included several mental health services providers and two mothers of addicts. During discussion about what could be done to improve the system, the complexity of the problem quickly became apparent.

An Islesboro woman, whose son died from drug use, said she wished he had been incarcerated because it would have forced him to get clean in the short term and bought him time to get treatment.

The other mother, who traveled from Brooks to attend the meeting, described her son going in and out of jail without any change in his addiction. Currently, he's behind bars, she said. She started coming to the weekly sessions in Belfast, she said in hopes of changing the system.

"We want to see the system work," she said, "because now it's a waste."

When the discussion turned to inmates using drugs, the woman asked how it could be possible. When she visited her son, they had to talk through a plastic window. The practitioners in the room could only shrug. Guards, maybe.

There was talk of the library group becoming the public outreach arm of WCRC. Participants made a list of political office holders and candidates whom they could invite, to learn from and appeal to. They talked about the potential benefits of drug courts, which offer repeat drug offenders incentives to get treatment. And they considered the district attorney, whose office resolves the majority of criminal cases behind the scenes, through plea deals, before they go to trial.

Waldo County District Attorney Jonathan Liberman attended the WCRC signing on Thursday in what the library group took to be either a move of political prudence before an upcoming election or a promising sign for people with substance abuse problems. His opponent in November, Natasha Irving, has been outspoken about wanting to take a rehabilitative angle on criminal justice, including more collaboration with Restorative Justice.

A member of the library group recalled a high-ranking corrections official who has been supportive of Restorative Justice telling her that he's had success working with the current DA to divert substance abusers at the front end of the criminal justice system and worried about having to start over if the office changes hands.