BANGOR, Maine — City Councilors on Tuesday night will consider whether or not to place a 180-day moratorium on issuing permits to facilities that provide suboxone treatment to addicts.
The question arose after the director of a Hogan Road treatment facility suggested her clinic might want to expand to offer suboxone treatment to patients. The clinic, Penobscot County Metro, currently is licensed to treat up to 300 Mainers with methadone and is operating at its cap, according to Lisa Davis, program director. She said the facility could expand its space and add up to 200 suboxone patients to its list.
Suboxone is an alternative to methadone that is less tightly controlled because it has a lower potential for abuse and is less dangerous in an overdose, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As patients progress on therapy, their doctor may write a prescription for a take-home supply of the medication.
During a meeting of the Substance Abuse Task Force of the Bangor Region Public Health Advisory Board last week, Davis said her suggestion was meant to serve as an alternative to a bill before the state Legislature that hasn’t seen much progress since earlier this year.
That bill, 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 garnered enthusiastic support from Bangor’s City Council and city officials back in March and April of this year.
Councilors passed a resolve in support of the bill, arguing that having more facilities in more communities would provide easier access for patients seeking addiction treatment while reducing the number of people from outside Bangor that facilities in Bangor would need to treat. The Legislature has yet to consider the bill.
Three of the state’s nine methadone treatment facilities are in Bangor — Penobscot County Metro, Discovery House and Acadia Hospital. No other city in Maine has that many facilities. Discovery House and Acadia also are licensed to treat some patients with suboxone.
Several councilors, however, wanted to discuss whether the city should hold off on allowing a Penobscot County Metro expansion until officials have more time to work with the state to get the bill moving. Otherwise, they might be allowing more patients to be treated in Bangor before the Legislature determines whether hundreds of patients from outside Bangor might be able to receive treatment closer to their homes.
“It’s not that these patients shouldn’t be getting suboxone,” but rather that the city should be working to urge the state to allow people to be treated in their own communities rather than traveling to Bangor, Councilor Pauline Civiello said Monday. Some patients travel from more than two hours away.
“Bangor Has its fair share of clients coming here from other communities,” she said.
Suboxone, like methadone, is used to treat opioid dependency. Suboxone contains the active ingredient buprenorphine, which reduces the symptoms of opioid dependence. The city’s ordinances, however, don’t have land use regulations on facilities providing suboxone treatment like they do with methadone treatment, according to Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas.
If approved by the council, the ordinance would place a moratorium on permitting facilities providing suboxone treatment in Bangor for 180 days. During that time, the City Council would review land use rules related to chemical dependency facilities, and if needed, establish regulations, potentially similar to those on methadone treatment.
“I don’t have a problem with the method of treatment, only that Bangor cannot shoulder the burden for the entire region,” Councilor Ben Sprague said Monday. “Bangor can take care of its own, but we cannot take care of everyone. Treatment needs to be available in other parts of the state so that not everyone needs to come to Bangor.”
The city’s Government Operations Committee will consider the moratorium during its meeting Tuesday night at at 5:15 p.m.