LINNEUS, Maine — An Aroostook County-based prescription drug abuse prevention program that risked shutting down for lack of funding earlier this year has been awarded a substantial federal grant to fight opioid abuse.
The statewide Diversion Alert program as well as the Down East AIDS Network Inc. in Ellsworth and Maine General Medical Center in Augusta each have received $100,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Friday in a joint press release.
“Opioid abuse has hurt our communities, divided families and ruined lives,” the senators said in the release. The funding “will support the development of innovative community partnerships to combat this threat and will increase access to emergency care that can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.”
The Diversion Alert program provides secure online access of drug arrest data to health care providers so they can identify patients who might be visiting different providers in search of prescription refills or new requests for opiates, narcotics and pain medications. The program had been at risk of being eliminated unless it received new funding in June. Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill into law in July that was sponsored by Sen. Michael Willette, R-Presque Isle, that authorized $95,000 in funding for the program for one year.
At the Down East Aids Network Inc. in Ellsworth, Executive Director Kenney Miller said the $100,000 federal award would help the agency in its goal to safely increase access to Narcan, an emergency drug that can revive overdose victims.
Miller said the agency will work with law enforcement and paramedics so the first responders can recognize the signs and symptoms of a drug overdose and then administer the drug. The organization also is working with physicians so they can recognize the signs of a patient suffering from addiction. Kenney said that along with providing support, assistance and treatment options, the doctors can offer a prescription for Narcan.
“There were 176 drug overdoses in Maine in 2013, and last year there were 208,” he said. “Reports in June or July stated that there have been about 105 deaths, so we are still on par with past years.”