ROCKPORT, Maine — MaineHealth officials announced this week plans to expand services for people with drug addictions in Knox County.
The state’s largest health care system, which oversees Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and Maine Behavioral Health clinics throughout the southern half of the state, said the program will provide drug abuse treatment and counseling to an additional 100 to 190 patients in the region.
The announcement comes in the wake of two deaths last month in Rockland that police believe were the result of heroin overdoses. The unveiling of the expanded services also follows a community forum two weeks ago when 130 people gathered to talk about the drug problem and offer possible solutions.
MaineHealth, however, stated in its press release that the organization had been working on creating this program for some time before the latest deaths or the forum.
The central part of the expanded services involves adding over the next several months a physician, a nurse and counselors to serve up to 190 patients with drug addiction each year at Maine Behavioral Health’s clinic and offices in Rockland.
These services in Rockland will be coordinated with another MaineHealth member, the Mid Coast Hospital Addiction Resource Center in Damariscotta, which offers intensive outpatient services that can take three to 12 weeks.
MaineHealth acknowledged in an email statement that the demand for help will likely outstrip the available services even with the additional resources.
“One of the challenges statewide with addiction treatment is a lack of resources to pay for it,” MaineHealth officials stated in an email to the BDN. “This is a problem that we and our MaineHealth partners cannot possibly solve alone. However, this model is an innovative approach that leverages existing resources and we hope it can be part of the solution. Will it meet the full demand for service? Probably not, but it is a start and it shows that all the partners — Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital, Mid Coast Hospital, Maine Behavioral Healthcare and LincolnHealth — are working to do their part.”
At the community forum two weeks ago, local physician Dr. Ira Mandel criticized Pen Bay and its physicians for not showing more leadership in dealing with the drug crisis. He said the hospital should encourage its primary care physicians to treat people with opiate addictions, including by using drug replacement therapy.
Mandel estimated there are more than 1,000 people in the region with drug addictions who are in need of treatment.
MaineHealth would not respond directly to the criticism by Mandel, who had worked for Pen Bay up until about a year and a half ago. MaineHealth officials stated in an email, however, that it has a lot of work left to do to “understand the needs of our primary care community when it comes to treating these patients, and we want to be careful not to assume anything as to how this piece ought to be designed. This is a problem that requires medical and social engagement in a community-wide effort, and it is important we do not lose sight of that.”
Mark Fourre, chief health affairs officer with MaineHealth, said that while there is a place for replacement therapies in caring for patients with addictions, they are not the answer on their own and pose their own risks, such as with the possible diversion and misuse of Suboxone. He said the support being offered under the programs in Damariscotta and in Rockland is critical to the success of the treatment program.
Fourre said the final stage of the care continuum — getting the patient under the care of a primary care physician equipped to provide the range of services required for long-term success — may be the most important of all.
“Recovery is a lifelong process,” said Fourre.