Pequawket Valley Health Initiative aims to curb addiction in Western Maine

FRYEBURG, Maine — A new organization called the Pequawket Valley Health Initiatives aims to find ways to promote healthy living and curb addiction in western Maine towns, according to its founder.

Fryeburg resident Chris Whitaker, 56, is the initiative’s founder and also serves as its president. His wife, Mary Whitaker, serves on the board of directors, as well.

Whitaker has lived in Fryeburg almost his whole life and works as a salesman in Portland. He has three sons from a first marriage and a 14-year-old son, Mason, whom he and Mary adopted at birth. They have five grandchildren who live out of state.

The initiative’s other board member is Carrie Curtis, who works as a therapist at Fryeburg Academy. They are looking for volunteers and board members.

Whitaker said addiction is a far-reaching problem and that everyone knows someone who is affected. “Basically we are going to be tackling addiction, all types of addiction, not just opioids,” said Whitaker. “We are going to educate the youth in the schools along with educating the community.” Members of the public are encouraged to join the initiative or to follow it by joining their email list, he said.

Whitaker became involved with the issue of addiction after attending a drug abuse forum with his friend, the late Tom Shaffner, which was held at Fryeburg Academy in August 2016. They learned that the schools were offering basic health education, but Whitaker saw a need for more.

Whitaker said he helped organize a meeting in October 2016, which about 30 people attended. There were representatives of MSAD 72, the town of Fryeburg, doctors, lawyers, counselors and clergy members. “We have kept it going since then,” said Whitaker. “We meet on a monthly basis.”

He said the group, a 501(c)(3) non-profit in the state of Maine, hopes to be a resource provider for people who have questions about addiction issues. He said his organization has an application in to get their federal nonprofit status.

This year, Whitaker said the group will focus on trying to supplement anti-drug education in the schools. “Granted, it has to be approved and passed by the school board,” said Whitaker. MSAD 72 Superintendent Jay Robinson said he intended to bring up the subject at a school board subcommittee meeting set for Jan. 9. Fryeburg Academy Head of School Erin Mayo wants to hear what the group has to say.

“Like Jay and MSAD #72, FA has an existing health curriculum that extensively covers substance use, but we’re certainly open to augmenting it and hearing what Chris and the PVHI have in mind,” said Mayo.

The initiative meets the second Tuesday of the month, generally at the American Legion between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Its next meeting is Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m.

Fryeburg selectmen, at their Dec. 14 meeting, voted to support the initiative. “It’s just a group of citizens who are making an effort to provide some resources,” said Selectmen’s chair Janice Crawford.

Selectman Rick Eastman said he’s thankful that the group exists. The initiative has a partnership with United Way of Maine and the 211 services. 211 Maine is a directory of services for issues like substance abuse and mental health.

In January, recreational use of marijuana became legal at the state level. The town is now working on an ordinance to present to voters in June that would regulate marijuana-related businesses in town. The language of the ordinance has not been finalized.

It may ban or allow marijuana-related business activities such as cultivation, manufacturing of products, retail sales, social clubs and lab testing.

“The way we look at it is, let’s ban it all,” said Whitaker, who opposes any marijuana businesses other than for medical purposes.

“Our main concern is are we sending the right signals to the kids.”

Right now, the town has a moratorium to prevent applications for marijuana-related businesses to come before the planning board. That moratorium expires in January but selectmen plan to extend it another six months at their meeting on Jan. 11.

For more information about the initiative, call Whitaker at (207) 935-4104.

Chris Whitaker PVHI