Forum Oct. 24

Sheriff, district attorney candidates to debate approaches to addiction, mental health

New group sees two elected positions as key to local change
Oct 24, 2018

Belfast — Community Addiction and Mental Health Solutions, a nonpartisan information-gathering group, is looking for new approaches to dealing with the opioid crisis. To that end CAMS is sponsoring a forum and debate Wednesday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m., with candidates for District VI attorney and Waldo County sheriff.

“The recent epidemic rise in opioid use disorders and overdoses has put the spotlight on (these) two elected positions that hold the key to local change,” CAMS member Tim Hughes, MD, said in a letter to The Republican Journal Oct. 8.

“Why? Because most of those arrested in our community have a substance use disorder or other mental illness, and are not a danger to the community,” he wrote. “Most who commit crimes are arrested and detained by the Sheriff’s Office. And if someone is charged with a crime, 97 percent of the time the case is settled out of court through a plea offer made by the district prosecuting attorney.”

Participating in the forum and debate will be incumbent Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton, a Republican, and his challenger, Belfast Police Sgt. John Gibbs, an independent, and incumbent District Attorney Jon Liberman, a Republican, and his challenger, attorney Natasha Irving, a Democrat. District VI encompasses Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.

“These are the elected positions with the power to change our current unjust, expensive and crazy system,” Hughes said in his letter.

To elicit the candidates’ views on the issues of mental health and addiction, CAMS scheduled the forum and debate for those two races at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Crosby Center, 96 Church St., in the facility’s Little Theater (entrance on Miller Street). All are welcome to attend.

Former journalist Jay Davis will moderate. There will be a brief introduction by CAMS, an opportunity for each candidate to speak to the issues, and at least an hour of open public discussion.

Co-sponsors of the event include the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast, Seaport Community Health Center, and the Greater Bay Area Ministerium.

In an Oct. 8 news release from CAMS, member Tammy Lacher Scully said, “We’ve learned a lot about how our legal system affects vulnerable members of our community, and the good news is that there’s plenty that can be done without passing more laws or raising a lot more money.”

For instance, she says, “A sheriff can influence whether a person struggling with mental health or addiction issues is arrested at all and, if they do end up incarcerated, whether they can receive treatment while being held.

“And a district attorney has a lot of latitude when it comes to what a person is charged with, what bail is set, and whether an offender can be diverted to a treatment program instead of going to jail. A lot of these decisions are simply a matter of how they choose to run their operations.”

Local law enforcement is grappling with both an opioid drug crisis and inadequate mental health services, the press release said. CAMS members say they are dedicated to helping them find solutions that balance fiscal responsibility with humane and effective treatment.

In its news release, the new group says it formed "to see if ordinary citizens could improve the way people with serious mental health issues or addiction are treated in their community." The group's logo on its Facebook page indicates members subscribe to “Better health and safety through therapeutic justice.”

CAMS lists as its principles:

  • We believe that members of our community who have serious mental health or substance use disorders are entitled to effective support and treatment. We believe that they deserve acceptance, respect, and opportunities to contribute to our community. And we believe that lack of access to effective support and treatment constitutes discrimination, violates human rights, and causes pain and loss to families in our community.
  • We advocate for community-based strategies that reduce harm, maximize potential, improve functioning, avert crisis, and enhance safety for all community members.
  • We work for increased public awareness, reduced stigma, improved community-based services and solutions, and for therapeutic justice.

For more information about the problems associated with opioid drug use, mental illness, and how the criminal justice system is involved in both, visit


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