BANGOR, Maine — Bangor officials are backing a bill that they believe could reduce the costs of methadone treatment to taxpayers and improve patients’ chances of success by keeping them closer to home.
The bill, titled An Act to Reduce Costs and Increase Access to Methadone Treatment, would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to license federally qualified health centers, health care providers or medical practices as methadone treatment clinics.
Today, there are just nine methadone clinics in Maine, and the only one north of Bangor is tucked into the eastern corner of the state in Calais.
Bangor is home to three methadone facilities — Acadia Hospital, Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center and Discovery House — which are licensed to issue treatment for up to 1,500 patients, the equivalent of about 4.5 percent of the city’s population, according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.
In southern Maine, the share of patients is divided among three communities. Portland’s Merrimack River Medical Services, South Portland’s Discovery House, and Westbrook’s CAP Quality Care are licensed to issue treatment to 500 patients each.
Facilities in other population centers, Rockland, Waterville and Calais, are licensed to issue treatment for 400, 500, and 300, respectively. The Rockland facility is not yet open. While it has received licensing approval from the Maine DHHS, it still requires federal approval before it can begin accepting patients, according the DHHS spokesman John Martins.
That leaves Bangor to serve a huge swath of central and northern Mainers in medication-assisted recovery.
“There’s clearly a burden on the service centers as a result of this service,” said Shawn Yardley, director of health and community services for Bangor. “The problem exists in most every town in Maine, so it doesn’t make sense that just a few communities should meet the whole demand.”
Some patients travel two hours to Bangor on a daily basis to receive their dose — a cost that’s picked up by taxpayers if the patient is on MaineCare.
There are 4,760 Mainers receiving methadone maintenance treatment to fight opiate addiction, and 3,119 of those — more than 65 percent — are on public assistance under MaineCare, according to DHHS.
The state spent about $7 million in 2010 in transportation costs for patients covering miles between their homes and treatment centers. That’s just $2 million less than the state spent on methadone treatment itself in 2010.
“I don’t think that anyone would suggest that the way we’ve done it is best for anybody,” Yardley said.
“We have to think about the quality of life of those receiving treatment,” said Bangor City Councilor Pauline Civiello, who has been heavily involved in crafting and gathering data in support of the bill.
Under the bill, people receiving treatment would be required to attend the clinic closest to their residence.
Civiello said having more health care facilities in Maine provide methadone treatment would allow patients to stay closer to home to be near family or pursue education or career opportunities, along with saving the state millions of dollars in transportation costs.
Civiello and Yardley said having closer access to treatment could lead to fewer instances of relapse and better overall care for methadone patients who would visit local health care facilities on a daily basis to get their methadone.
The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst. Six Bangor and Penobscot County delegates have signed on as co-sponsors, along with Rep. Katherine Cassidy of Lubec. Lockman is working to secure a few more co-sponsors before a hearing is set.
“It may not be the answer, but I think it’s a really good place to begin the conversation,” Yardley said.