BANGOR, Maine — A major provider of methadone treatment in Bangor has received approval from the state to expand capacity from 500 to 700 patients and soon will go before the City Council for a final go-ahead.
Brent Miller, representing Discovery House, a Rhode Island company that operates four methadone clinics in Maine including one in Bangor, said ever-increasing demand precipitated the request to expand.
“We’ve got 80 or 90 people on our waiting list and some have been waiting for up to 10 weeks,” Miller said Thursday during a meeting of the city’s community advisory group, which is responsible for monitoring Bangor’s three methadone providers.
During the same meeting, Dan Johnson, clinical supervisor for substance abuse services at Acadia Hospital, said that his clinic has started to reduce methadone service. Although Acadia is licensed to serve up to 900 patients, there are about 550 enrolled.
Earlier this month, Acadia announced that it no longer would provide free methadone treatment to the uninsured, citing high costs and decreased reimbursements. Johnson said of Acadia’s 550 clients, approximately 100 were receiving free care. Of that number, about 70 have been able to pay the $72 per week for their dose.
“Once you remind them of the cost of illicit drugs, they understand,” he said. “Most are committed to continuing their treatment.”
Another reason for the reduction at Acadia, Johnson said, is the increased popularity of buprenorphine, or Suboxone, instead of methadone. Suboxone can be administered through a primary care physician.
Both methadone and Suboxone are replacement drugs used to treat addiction to heroin and other opiates.
The potential changes in Bangor don’t take into account the recent sudden closure of Turning Tide, a methadone clinic in Rockland that was shuttered last month after a federal investigation into illegal drug activities there.
Guy Cousins, director of the state’s Office of Substance Abuse, said the closure of Turning Tide was an emergency closure but the state is actively looking for a long-term solution. The Rockland clinic served more than 250 patients, many of whom have come to Bangor for treatment in the last month.
The third methadone clinic in Bangor, the Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center, has taken in some of those patients but is still operating below capacity. Lisa Davis, representing the clinic, said it simply has not been able to hire enough counselors, which are required under state law.
Acadia has been taking some of the Rockland patients, too, but Discovery House has been at capacity for months. That’s where the City Council comes in.
Susan Hawes, the council’s liaison to the community advisory group, had concerns about what happens to patients who cannot afford treatment. Johnson said that there really isn’t anything that can be done other then sending them to an emergency room where only their acute systems are addressed.
As for the expansion request by Discovery House, Hawes asked Deputy Police Chief Peter Arno if the full council might have concerns.
“I don’t see it as unfavorable. There is a clear need,” Arno said, adding that methadone is much easier to talk about rationally and respectfully than it was five or 10 years ago.
Discovery House officials likely will go before the council later this month or in October. Miller said if the council approves the request the expansion would happen immediately.