“Substance abuse is the secret problem of the Midcoast,” said Frederick Newcomb of Owls Head on Feb. 15. “It’s the monster that lurks beneath the surface.”

Fred and Jane Newcomb have been facilitating a Nar-Anon Family Group in Rockland for about six years. The group meets once a week and offers anonymous support to the friends and family members of drug addicts.

The couple became concerned about the drug problem in the community several years ago when addiction began to impact a family they knew. The two, who are longtime members of Owls Head Baptist Church, said to themselves, “We have to do something,” and the church supported them in the effort.

Jane said that when they started, they were seeing a lot of cocaine and heroin addiction. Now, the most dominant form of drug addiction in the Midcoast seems to be to prescription medications, especially opiates including oxycodone, OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. However, the couple does not work with the drug addicts themselves. They work with families.

The meetings offer a place for people to meet and talk anonymously about the problems they face. Many are parents of addicts or are husbands or wives or grandparents. In some cases the children of addicts will come to these meetings.

“Families are getting consumed by the problem and that’s why our group is important,” Jane said.

Jane said drug addicts often come from loving parents and nurturing families. People feel guilty and embarrassed that their child has a drug problem. The Newcombs said that people who have used the program have told them it is good to be able to seek help in an environment where they will not be judged.

“There is hope,” Jane said. “We’ve seen a lot of success.”

Family members become obsessed with their loved one’s addiction and desperate to solve the problem.

“We who care the most suffer from the addict’s erratic behavior,” the Nar-Anon handbook states. “We try to control and are ashamed of the scenes caused. Soon, we begin to think we are to blame and assume the guilt, fears, and responsibilities of the addict. Thus, we become sick, too.”

“The obsession of the family becomes apparent when we try to control the addict’s using,” it also states. “We become detectives and search the premises and his personal belongings for drugs and drug-related items.”

The families also wrestle with how to help their struggling addict. On the one hand, they can provide food or clothes or other needs for the addict in their life to help them, but that can free up the addict’s resources for the acquisition of drugs. Helping addicts can also mean enabling them.

“Trying to fix the problem can be a financial and emotional bottomless pit,” Fred said.

Nar-Anon helps the family members help themselves. They realize through the program that there is little or nothing they can do to change the addict’s behavior, but they can change themselves and reclaim their own lives.

“You never stop loving a child, but you can decide you will no longer take ownership or responsibility for your child’s addiction,” Jane said.

In some cases, seeing a family member going to Nar-Anon meetings will encourage an addict to attend meetings, Fred said.

“Love is the leverage a family member will have,” Fred said.

In some cases, wives tell husbands they will end the marriage if the drug abuse continues. Sometimes a spouse will have to do things to protect their financial assets from a husband or wife who is using drugs and needs money to pay for the habit.

Fred said the level of need in the community has remained steady. He said it is believed that there are at least 1,000 drug addicts living in the Midcoast at any given time. He said he has seen the problem in the fishing community among young men who are self-employed and can set their own hours. When the fishing is good, they have access to large sums of cash, and those factors make it easier to maintain a drug addiction. The issue is not limited to the fishing community, however.

“It tends to be young people,” Fred said. “Drug addiction is something where you either get better or you don’t necessarily live that long.”

The two noted that addiction is a disease. Nar-Anon states that it can be arrested but never cured.

“Only complete abstinence from the use of drugs, including alcohol, can arrest this disease,” the pamphlet states.

The couple said relapse is often a part of recovery. In some cases, an addict may have several relapses, but family members will see over time that the relapses are getting further and further apart.

Nar-Anon offers a 12-step program. Like many 12-step programs it is spiritual in nature, encouraging those in the program to seek help from God, or a higher power. The Newcombs and the literature for the program stress, however, that the program is nondenominational. A person can come to the program from any kind of background, religious or not.

Jane’s degree from the University of Maine at Farmington is in rehabilitation. She said she did internships at a rehabilitation center that was once located in Owls Head and at Togus in the psychiatric unit, working with alcoholics and drug addicts. Fred is a lawyer who used to work in criminal law and has seen the results of substance abuse in the cases at court.

“The people we have seen tend to be wonderful people,” Fred said. “It’s just a wonderful thing when someone says they’ve been helped.”

“It’s not Fred and I who have helped them,” Jane added. “It’s the resources. They help themselves and they help each other.”

When asked if the work is difficult, the two said they never feel reluctant to go to the meeting on a Tuesday night.

“We have tears in the meetings,” Fred said. “But there is more laughter than tears.”

The Nar-Anon group meets at the Rockland Public Library on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. The meeting room is located in the basement, and those interested can find it by following the signs, Jane said.

“It’s very discreet,” she said.

They have also founded a Nar-Anon group in the Portland area.

How does one know if Nar-Anon is needed?

The following questions were written by Nar-Anon organizers and are listed at NarAnon.com/about/questions.html:

1. Do you find yourself making excuses, lying or covering up for the addict in your life?

2. Do you have reason not to trust the addict in your life?

3. Is it becoming difficult for you to believe his/her explanations?

4. Do you lie awake worrying about the addict in your life?

5. Is this person missing school often without your knowledge?

6. Is this person missing work and letting the bills pile up?

7. Are the savings mysteriously missing?

8. Are the unanswered questions causing hostility and undermining your relationship or marriage?

9. Are you asking yourself: “What’s Wrong?” and “Is it my fault?”

10. Are your suspicions turning you into a detective and are you afraid of what you might find out?

11. Are normal family disagreements becoming hostile and violent?

12. Are you canceling social functions with vague excuses?

13. Are you becoming increasingly reluctant to invite friends to your home?

14. Is concern for your spouse, child or friend causing you headaches, a knotty stomach and extreme anxiety?

15. Is your spouse, child or friend easily irritated by minute matters? Does your whole life seem a nightmare?

16. Are you unable to discuss the situation with friends or relatives because of the embarrassment?

17. Are your attempts at control frustrating?

18. Do you over compensate and try not to make waves?

19. Do you keep trying to make things better and nothing helps?

20. Is the lifestyle of this person changing? Do you ever think they may be using drugs?

If you have answered yes to four or more of these questions, Nar-Anon may be able to give you the answers you are looking for.

For more information, visit nar-anon.org.