BANGOR, Maine — City councilors gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a request from one of Bangor’s three methadone clinics to expand from serving 500 patients to serving up to 700.
Brent Miller, representing Discovery House, told members of the council’s government operations committee that there is clear, documented need for increased capacity at its clinic off Odlin Road.
He said nearly 100 patients are on a waiting list, and that doesn’t include the 25 patients who recently were referred to Discovery House when the Turning Tide clinic in Rockland unexpectedly closed last month.
Councilors largely agreed with Miller that the need exists.
“[Discovery House] has proven that they are capable of treating 500 clients,” said Councilor Pat Blanchette. “We have a tendency to look at [methadone clinics] as something that we don’t want in our community, but we are a service center.”
Geoff Gratwick added, “I’m impressed by their operation. It’s neat and tidy and well hidden. Methadone has certainly proved its worth.”
However, Gratwick and David Nealley expressed concerns that Bangor has to bear the brunt of the area’s need for methadone, a synthetic drug used to wean addicts off heroin and other opiates. The next-closest clinics are in Waterville and Calais and, as Miller pointed out, only 30 percent of Discovery House’s clients are from Bangor.
“Bangor has become a greater service center and not just for niceties like the mall and financial institutions,” Nealley said. “I guess we take the good with the bad.”
Gratwick asked Miller directly that if Bangor denied the request for expansion, would that encourage Discovery House to open a clinic elsewhere.
“Can’t we have a better geographic distribution?” he asked.
Miller said it’s not that simple. There are still startup and infrastructure costs associated with opening a clinic. Besides, he said, Maine is a rural state whose residents are used to traveling to service centers such as Bangor for many types of health care.
Discovery House already has received the state’s approval to expand and now just needs the full council to support the request at its next meeting later this month.
Rhode Island-based Discovery House operates 20 clinics in five Northeast states, including four in Maine.
In Bangor, Acadia Hospital operates a methadone clinic that can serve up to 900 patients, although it serves only about 550. The third city clinic, Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center, has the capacity to serve about 300 patients and is serving more than 250 at last check.
Acadia recently announced that it no longer would provide free methadone to patients who do not have health insurance. No other clinic in Maine provides methadone free of charge.
According to Miller, 85 percent of Discovery House patients have health insurance through MaineCare. The remaining number pay for treatment in cash, which works out to about $95 a week, he said.