BANGOR, Maine — Bangor’s city councilors grilled methadone clinic officials over a proposed expansion of treatment in Bangor during a sometimes contentious public hearing Monday night.
Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center, located in the Maine Square Mall on Hogan Road, wants to boost the number of patients it’s licensed to treat for addiction with methadone from 300 to 500.
Much of the frustration among councilors stems from the fact that Bangor carries more of the responsibility for providing treatment than any other community in the state.
Bangor has three treatment centers licensed to serve up to a combined 1,500 clients. Each of those centers is operating at or near capacity. Portland, South Portland and Westbrook have one center each, and those centers serve the same total number of patients as Bangor’s clinics.
There is demand for treatment. Penobscot Metro says it has a waitlist of 173 people who have sought treatment, and after following up by calling each person on that list, 60 people responded to the phone call and said they still were interested in treatment.
Most councilors have said they agree that addiction is a crisis in Maine and that treatment is severely needed, but they believe it should be available in other parts of the state where people struggle with addiction. There is no methadone clinic north of Bangor, meaning that, for example, an Aroostook County resident who wants to seek out that method of treatment must either move to Bangor or drive to get their doses.
James Harrison, regional director for Colonial Management Group, and others representing the company at the meeting argued that opening smaller treatment centers in other parts of the state wouldn’t be financially viable or easy to staff with medical professionals, clinicians and counselors. What is viable is offering more treatment in a place where it’s already established, they said. Such an expansion could happen almost immediately, rather than taking months or years to organize in another community.
Councilor Gibran Graham asked Harrison whether he had driven from Bangor to Aroostook County. Harrison said he had not.
“I suggest that you do,” Graham said. “I suggest you drive there and back, because that’s what you’re asking patients to do every day.”
Councilors took offense to a letter sent by Preti-Flaherty, the law firm representing Penobscot Metro, to the city solicitor last month after a previous meeting with the City Council, where councilors expressed skepticism of the expansion bid. That letter was included in a packet of informational materials handed to councilors as the meeting started.
In the letter, attorneys representing Colonial Management argue Bangor’s ordinance outlining the requirements of a clinic looking to expand was “enacted out of discriminatory animus toward individuals coming to Bangor to seek medical treatment for a recognized disability under the [Americans With Disabilities Act].”
“This is a city that has done so much to support substance abuse treatment in the region,” Councilor Joe Baldacci said, citing the fact that the city offers more treatment than any other in the state and lobbied in support of the reinstatement of a drug court.
After nearly two hours of questioning and debate between councilors and Penobscot Metro representatives, members of the public had the chance to voice their opinions on the expansion.
Elizabeth Gray, a nurse at the clinic, spoke in favor of the expansion, saying that the people seeking help were “good people” who needed a hand, and quickly. The longer someone sits on a waitlist, the more likely they may stop seeking help.
“They need treatment, we’re offering treatment,” she said. “We’re not offering methadone, we’re offering hope.”
Opponents of the expansion argued this expansion was not serving the best needs of those seeking treatment, or the city and its residents.
Councilors are expected to vote on the expansion application during their next regular meeting Monday, Aug. 8.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.