$250,000 coming to Waterville to combat drug use

On Friday, March 11, the Obama Administration revealed a new initiative that will provide $94 million to 271 substance abuse treatment programs at community health centers in 45 states, four of which are in Maine. The initiative is receiving its funding from grants under the Affordable Care Act.

The  announcement came the day after the Senate approved the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), “which expands the availability of medication-assisted treatment, including in criminal justice settings, and supports treatment as an alternative to incarceration,” the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids states. CARA will spend approximately $80 million on treatment, prevention, and recovery.

According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Secretary Sylvia Burwell of Health and Human Services said,  “The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States today….Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and integrating these services in health centers bolsters nationwide efforts to curb opioid misuse and abuse, supports approximately 124,000 new patients accessing substance use treatment for recovery and helps save lives.”

Maine will be receiving $1.2 million of the total funds to split between health centers in Portland (Portland Community Health Center), Lincoln (Health Access Network), Bangor (Penobscot Community Health Center), and Waterville (Healthreach Community Health Centers), and the funds will be primarily used to combat heroin addiction and abuse.

The Healthreach Community Health Centers in Waterville will also receive $250,000 per year for the next two years as part of the program. The centers in Portland, Lincoln, and Bangor will receive $350,000 per year for the next two years.

However, this amount of money is not nearly enough to fully address the crisis. Maine is in the middle of a tragic epidemic  (there were over 270 drug overdoses in Maine just last year, and most of these were caused by heroin) and the four  health centers, as well as the government, welcome any help they can get.

Medication-assisted treatment costs approximately $5,000 to $7,000 per person per year, which means that Obama’s initiative will adequately help only few hundred people in Maine. According to the Portland Press Herald, “[Regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Rachel] Kaprielian said the focus of the funding will be medication-assisted treatment for opioid addictions— primarily using Suboxone and methadone — that help reduce cravings for opioids.”

Last year, approximately 15,500 people in Maine received help for opioid addictions, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The Portland Press Herald states, “How many are uninsured and can’t get into treatment programs is unknown, but officials who operate substance abuse treatment centers repeatedly have told the Portland Press Herald that demand is far outpacing the available supply for the uninsured who can’t pay out-of-pocket.”

The funding from the government, while small in comparison to the severity of the need, “could help hundreds or even thousands of Mainers who now have difficulty finding treatment. Nationally, the program could provide funding over two years to treat about 150,000 to 200,000 addicts,” The Portland Press Herald states.  In addition, the Press Herald mentions that “Maine could benefit more than other states, according to the White House, because the funding formula would be weighted in favor of states that are rural and are more affected by the crisis.”

Maine Senator Angus King has been a supporter of the House’s plans to combat heroin addiction from the start. In a phone interview, King told The Press Herald that “he’s encouraged by the White House’s robust response to the crisis, and that the initiative would be the first significant new federal spending on treatment. King said Maine stands to benefit from the new funding based on how the heroin crisis has seriously affected the state.”

In the first nine months of 2015, Maine saw 71 deaths due to heroin overdoses. In addition, the number of Maine residents needing treatment for opioid addiction increased from 1,115 in 2010 to 3,463 in 2014. King stated that because of these numbers, both Democrats and Republicans are in support of Obama’s initiative. “I have never seen as much bipartisan interest and support on an issue as this one,” King said.

In addition to providing support for heroin addicts, this new initiative also hopes to spread aware the dangers of substance abuse. According to the Bangor Daily News, U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II stated, “Our goal is not just to identify to the public that there is a problem. We want to talk to people about what they can do in their own homes and communities. This whole drug problem has developed over at least a decade and has come to a pinnacle at this point. It is a crisis and we have to act quickly and appropriately.”

Recently, the Senate defeated a $600 million amendment, despite some Republican support. This funding would have provided further support to opioid treatment programs across the country. Congress approved a bill to expand treatment, but without the approporiate funding, the program will struggle. King said to The Bangor Daily News that the country “can’t solve this problem without money.” Unless lawmakers take action to build upon the recent momentum of CARA, without the necessary funding, the heroin crisis addiction tragedy in Maine, and the rest of the country will not cease any time soon.