A simple truth regarding substance abuse has been demonstrated in study after study: Treatment works. Yet, a 2013 study by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse examining a 10-year period indicates only 3 percent of the costs associated with substance abuse were used for treatment.
Substance abuse has a tremendous cost here in Maine. In fact, in 2010 the Maine Office of Substance Abuse determined that cost was $1.4 billion, a 56 percent increase from 2005 and doubled from 2000. Right here in Penobscot County the cost exceeded $160 million.
The impact in Maine and the greater Bangor area is nothing short of phenomenal. These costs included productivity loss from morbidity and mortality, health care, crime and law enforcement, child welfare and other social programs, and, finally, treatment.
Yet, despite these mind-bending numbers and the crime and death behind them, not a single hospital bed is dedicated to detoxification in Bangor.
To confirm this, I called the three major hospitals in Bangor and asked them. No medical facility in Bangor or surrounding counties will accept individuals suffering from the disease of addiction unless they have already overdosed or are threatening suicide.
In recovery, the problems of substance abusers tend to decrease, while assets both to them and the community increase. A 2013 survey conduct by Faces and Voices of Recovery, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, noted several positive trends.
Some of the findings from patients in outpatient clinics and patients who did not transition to outpatient clinics after treatment can be summarized as follows: Involvement with the criminal justice system decreased tenfold, use of emergency rooms decreased tenfold, domestic violence involvement decreased dramatically, and reports of untreated emotional and mental health problems decreased fourfold.
Moreover, there was a decrease in personal debt and back taxes, and further, steady employment increased more than 50 percent, while the paying of bills and debts doubled. Twice as many went back to school, received job training or started a business.
Also, preventive care tripled, credit scores went up, civic involvement, including voting and volunteering, increased threefold, and participation in family activities rose from 68 percent to 95 percent. These changes are value added to the community and state, indicating the tremendous shifts associated with a recovery program.
A huge obstacle to filling this critical gap in the treatment process is Maine’s current governor, who vetoed Medicaid expansion five times. This regrettable action has greatly restricted access for countless low-income patients to adequate health care.
After all, there needs to be a system in place to pay for medical treatment. Again, payback has proven to be well worth the investment. LePage’s approach of increasing enforcement and packing the jails is a proven failure, and it’s far from cost effective.
According to the New York Academy of Medicine, a year in jail averages $44,000 compared with $4,000 to $10,000 for outpatient treatment. Without a change in administrations or a rethinking of priorities, the challenges to Maine, Penobscot County, and the Bangor community are considerable.
The beginning of treatment starts with physician-supervised detox, preferably in a controlled setting such as a hospital, although other models exist. Overcoming personal prejudices and misconceptions, as well as educating the medical community, are some of the challenges facing those in recovery.
Most doctors, for instance, have little or no training in addiction treatment despite the fact that the American Medical Association classified it as a disease in 1957.
I can’t think of a single family in my acquaintance not touched by this disease. Make no mistake, this is a colossal epidemic in our community. Bangor desperately needs a detox facility, or at least, the inclusion of dedicated beds in its hospitals.
Arthur Barry Adoff of Bangor is an author and member of the recovery community.