BANGOR, Maine — With drug overdoses claiming the lives of a record 272 people in Maine in 2015 and 189 in the first six months of 2016, state leaders have determined a detox center is needed somewhere in the Bangor area.
Wellspring Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, a residential and outpatient services program in Bangor, applied in July for Department of Health and Human Services funds to create a 10-bed facility and learned last week that the state awarded the organization $1,167,000 to start a “residential social setting detoxification center.” The two-year contract begins in November and runs through July 2018.
“We are pleased to be expanding social detox options to the state of Maine,” Samantha Edwards, a DHHS spokeswoman, said in a Friday email. “This is another example of how the department is working with community partners to provide treatment options to those struggling with addiction.
“This is, however, one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “The department is committed to treating those who need it by investing in innovative treatment modalities and increased capacity.”
DHHS also is paying for more rural providers to serve up to 1,500 individuals, new recovery centers, some for women with children, advocacy to connect pregnant women to substance abuse treatment services and for the return of the Penobscot County Adult Drug Court, Edwards said.
The social detox model brings together a small group of people starting a path to recovery from drug or alcohol abuse to a residential facility for a short period, usually three days to a week.
There they receive counseling and access to medical treatment and are set up with longer-term treatment and recovery programs. It’s intended to be a stepping stone, not a solution on its own.
With 10 beds, the facility could serve about 100 people per month, according to Patty Hamilton, Bangor’s public health director and chairwoman of Bangor’s Community Health Leadership Board, which advocated for the detox center.
“This is very important,” Hamilton said Friday in an email.
There’s only one other detox facility in Maine, Portland’s Milestone Foundation. Local law enforcement, hospital officials and community members asked that a detox center be created in the Bangor area, Wellspring clinical director Bruce Campbell said Friday.
The detox center is being paid for by a bipartisan law passed earlier this year that set aside $3.7 million to increase law enforcement and support treatment programs. It stipulated that a new detox facility be located in eastern or northern Maine in “an area of the state with high rates of opioid use and accessible to related services and supports.”
Bangor has existing medical and social services, and Wellspring already offers residential halfway houses for men and women, as well as outpatient services for people struggling with addiction and mental health problems.
Whether the detox center, which will cater to both alcohol and drug use treatment, will provide methadone or Suboxone to treat opiate addiction has not been determined, Campbell said.
“We’re trying to figure out the whole piece around medication treatment and what type of services can we connect them to when they leave,” he said. “Studies have shown the best choice [for those who use opiates] is medication treatment with behavioral therapy.”
Federal statistics indicate that 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers want to enroll in some sort of recovery program but have no access. The rules require that 40 percent of the detox center’s patients be uninsured to ensure finances are not a barrier to treatment.
While state lawmakers are taking steps to add treatment services, Bangor recently denied an expansion request by one of its four methadone clinics and Penobscot County Jail stopped administering methadone and Suboxone to inmates about a year ago.
Only a few people have complained about the change at the jail, Sheriff Troy Morton said recently, but the Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center filed a lawsuit in August alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act when the Bangor City Council denied its expansion request to increase the patient cap from 300 to 500.
Bangor city leaders voted 7-2 on Aug. 8 to deny the clinic’s request. That lawsuit, filed two weeks later, is making its way through U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Sixty people died in drug-related deaths in Maine in 2000, but by 2009, that number had increased to 179, which exceeded the number of people killed in automobile crashes in the state, according to data collected by Marcella Sorg, a University of Maine medical and forensic anthropologist who analyzes overdose deaths for the state’s attorney general.
There were 176 drug overdose deaths in 2013, and 208 people in Maine died by overdose in 2014. Based on the number of overdose deaths that occurred in the first half of 2016, Maine is on track to reach at least 378 deaths by the end of the year.
That is an average of more than one death every day.
“We hope to be open within six months. However, we have to find the facility and then apply for state licensing, do hiring and training and all that stuff,” Campbell said.