Discovery House serves expanding need almost invisibly

Discovery House located at 74 Dowd Road in Bangor.
Discovery House located at 74 Dowd Road in Bangor.
Posted Feb. 12, 2011, at 3:10 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 7:44 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Less than four months ago, city councilors approved a capacity increase for Discovery House, one of Bangor’s three methadone treatment clinics, to help meet growing demand.

With room to grow and plans to add another type of treatment — Suboxone — to further assist opiate addicts, Discovery House has rooted itself in Bangor’s health care community despite the sometimes controversial nature of its business.

“We were happy that the council was agreeable to our request. I think it cemented the fact that they view us as a community resource,” said Rob Kornacki, director of development for Rhode Island-based Discovery House, which operates 18 clinics across the country, including four in Maine.

The clinic, almost hidden off Odlin Road, has quietly been meeting area demand since 2007. Last June, Discovery House obtained a waiver from the state Office of Substance Abuse to increase capacity from 500 to 700 patients, but still needed city approval.

Councilors were not thrilled with the realization that, despite the fact that only 30 percent of Discovery House’s clients live in Bangor, the city shoulders tremendous responsibility to treat addiction in the entire region. Still, they could not argue against demand, and many councilors even praised Discovery House for operating nearly invisibly.

Methadone is a synthetic drug used to wean addicts off heroin and other opiates such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Suboxone, sometimes called buprenorphine, is similar to methadone but less restrictive and is geared toward addicts further along in recovery.

Brent Miller, clinic director in Bangor, said the city has become a statewide leader in the recovery community since Discovery House opened.

“It’s exciting to be here in this area providing treatment,” he said.

For the last couple of years, Discovery House had been hovering around its maximum of 500 patients, forcing many in need to be placed on a waiting list. Since the capacity increase was approved, Miller said, the number of patients is up to 560, but he predicted the addition of Suboxone would push the total higher.

“Since we opened, we’ve been getting calls about buprenorphine,” Miller said.

Acadia Hospital, which runs another methadone clinic in Bangor, has seen its client load actually decrease in the past year, largely because addicts are more interested in Suboxone. The city’s third methadone clinic, Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center, has the capacity to serve about 300 patients and routinely has been serving around 250.

Miller said adding Suboxone, a drug that also is available through primary care physicians, is just one piece of the puzzle. Discovery House has partnered with numerous social service agencies to help meet counseling and mental health treatment needs.

“Our mission is more than just treating the addiction but finding out what triggered the addiction in the first place,” Miller said.

A majority of patients at Discovery House do not fit the “heroin junkie” stereotype. They are split evenly between males and females; the largest age group is between 25 and 34 years old; and 70 percent first become addicted through a legally prescribed drug.

About 85 percent of Discovery House patients have health insurance through MaineCare. Those who pay for treatment in cash pay about $95 a week, Miller said, which is still far below the cost of maintaining an addiction to opiates.

In Discovery House’s four Maine clinics (Bangor, Waterville, South Portland and Calais), 1,800 addicts are being treated, Kornacki said. The Waterville clinic recently received approval to expand from 500 to 650 patients.

As the need increases, Kornacki said, Discovery House will continue to look at ways to meet that need.

“There are always geographic considerations and sometimes that can be a barrier,” he said. “In Bangor, for instance, we see many patients coming down from Presque Isle or Houlton. Now, the state has always directed services to Aroostook County, but it would be difficult for us to put a program in such a remote area.”

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