BANGOR CITY COUNCIL

With moratorium on opiate addiction drug, city invites broader discussion on drug abuse

Posted Nov. 25, 2013, at 10:26 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 26, 2013, at 7 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — No Bangor drug treatment facility will be allowed to expand its use of Suboxone treatment for the next 180 days after the City Council passed a moratorium in a 7-2 vote Monday night.

Some city councilors want that time to review the city’s regulations on drug addiction treatment facilities and, if needed, pass new rules regarding buprenorphine treatment. Under state law, the moratorium could be extended an additional 180 days if the council finds a problem exists and makes “reasonable progress” toward alleviating it.

The temporary ban was met with opposition from representatives of addiction treatment organizations, as well as several recovering addicts who attended meetings on the moratorium during the past month. Those discussions sparked several changes to the language of the moratorium, but most opponents weren’t satisfied.

Bruce Campbell, chairman of the city’s Substance Abuse Task Force and a board member of the Bangor Area Recovery Network, said he was most concerned with the message this moratorium sends.

“It broadcasts a message that perpetuates the stigma and shame associated with addiction, a message that far too often keeps people from seeking help,” Campbell told the council.

Patricia Kimball, executive director of Wellspring, an addiction counseling and outpatient center, said the moratorium would only serve to delay treatment for addicts seeking help. She said that delay could contribute to long waiting lists for treatment, crime and deaths of untreated addicts.

For the seven councilors who favored the moratorium, it is important that the city take a close, in-depth look at the big picture of addiction treatment in Bangor. Treatment is needed, they said, but some question whether Bangor handles more than its fair share of the burden. Council Chairman Ben Sprague expressed concerned about recidivism rates, and said learning more about these sorts of issues might help the council shape future regulations regarding Suboxone treatment.

Several councilors have cited concerns about the concentration of methadone treatment in Bangor, which has three facilities licensed to issue treatment to 1,500 patients — more than any other community in the state. They have often expressed support for a piece of legislation that would allow federally qualified health centers across the state to administer methadone, so patients don’t need to travel to Bangor from as far as two hours away to get their doses.

The moratorium will not affect current operations at treatment facilities in Bangor, but will prevent them from expanding their Suboxone and buprenorphine treatment temporarily.

The two “no” votes on the council came from Councilors Pat Blanchette and Gibran Graham. Blanchette said she didn’t want to be responsible for someone dying on the streets because they couldn’t get access to treatment.

Graham argued that the council’s goal with the moratorium was confused and that the city was looking to “regulate something that is already regulated.” There is a limit on the number of Suboxone patients each physician can have.

Suboxone is not handled the same way as methadone, as any approved medical practitioner from across the state can prescribe Suboxone, whereas a methadone patient must travel to a centralized clinic.

“We are doing this as a knee-jerk reaction to methadone,” when they are actually very separate issues, Graham argued.

In other business, the council voted to allocate $9,000 toward the Community Connector Odlin Road bus route. That brings to $20,000 the total raised to keep the route going through June 30, 2014. With more budget cuts looming, it’s unclear what the route’s future will be after that.

Also during Monday night’s meeting, the council accepted more than $150,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding that will provide rent to families who have experienced homelessness and are transitioning into apartments in Penobscot County.

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