BANGOR, Maine — The city’s Government Operations Committee unanimously backed a bill that would allow health care facilities to administer methadone treatments, leading to reduced costs for the state and relieving the city of a portion of its hefty share of methadone patients.
The proposal, 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. It is being pitched as a cost-saving measure that will allow Mainers fighting their addictions to receive treatment closer to home.
Councilor Joe Baldacci said during Monday night’s committee meeting that the bill also could be called An Act to Decentralize Methadone Treatment.
“We have taken more than our fair share of the burden,” he said.
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.
There are nine facilities in Maine allowed to serve methadone patients. 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.
The spread means patients must travel long distances for their treatments, including some who drive from as far as two hours away to appointments in Bangor on a daily basis. The state pays about $7 million annually to get people on MaineCare to those appointments. Running the program itself costs the state an additional $9 million per year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill would require patients to attend the facility closest to their home, reducing the distance they have to travel each day and cutting costs to the state and its taxpayers, according to Civiello.
Councilor Pauline Civiello has spearheaded the effort to get the bill before the Legislature and distribute methadone treatment more evenly in the state.
Calling the bill a “no-brainer” and criticizing the amount spent to transport people to treatment centers, Councilor Patricia Blanchette said, “It’s a shame on the state when Bangor, a city of 33,000 residents, has to be the brains of the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta.”
The resolve has been moved to the next council meeting agenda, where the full council will decide whether to put its support behind the bill.
In other business, the committee met with Lori Wingo, president of the Bangor Band, and the band’s treasurer, Sue McKay, in an attempt to hash out where the band’s future home will be.
The band and its board have been trying to identify a new location to permanently host its summer performances. During a March Government Operations Committee meeting, the band proposed building a bandstand structure in Pickering Square, one of several venues the group tried out in 2012.
Some councilors raised concerns about the square as a venue, citing safety and vandalism concerns. The band board believed it was the best option because of its ample parking options and accessibility to downtown, though its support of the site was tenuous because of the same issues cited by councilors.
However, the focus turned toward the waterfront as a potential location during Monday’s meeting after several councilors suggested a gazebo or bandstand there.
Wingo and McKay said the board hadn’t even considered the waterfront because of the potential for future business developments. Councilor Patricia Blanchette pointed out that a section from the harbormaster’s building to the large metal dock is open green space not open to development.
The band will work with Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette to map out some potential waterfront sites, as well as what a bandstand in Pickering Square might look like, and bring those ideas to the next Government Operations Committee meeting.