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Bangor Considers Moratorium on Suboxone Treatment Facilities
10/21/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Every week, hundreds of people in northern and central Maine travel to Bangor to treat their opiate addictions with Methadone and Suboxone. One clinic, according to Bangor City officials, wants to begin offering Suboxone to an additional 200 patients. The expansion would require the clinic to move to larger facility, at a time when city leaders believe Bangor is already treating a disproportionate share of the addicts. And, as Jay Field reports, the city is trying to put a six-month moratorium on a new facilities offering Suboxone treatment.

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Bangor has a task force that advises city officals on substance abuse policies, and last week the group held it's bi-monthly meeting. After the meeting, Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow says she was advised of a significant development.

"It came to light that Penobscot Metro was looking to add Suboxone to it's treatment services it provides out there," she says.

Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center sits at one corner of a strip mall off Hogan Road, behind a McDonalds. Unlike the neighboring Armed Forces Career Center, nail salon and tuxedo shop, the clinic has no sign out front. There's just an address, number 659.

Officials with Penobscot County Metro's parent company did not return a call for comment on this story by air time. But according to its Web site, the company has Methadone clinics in Bangor and rockland. City officials say the Bangor clinic currently serves about 300 patients. Adding Suboxone to its offerings would allow Penobscot Metro to treat an additional 200 people.

But Cathy Conlow says there are problems with the idea. "The site is not big enough," she says. "We already prohibit any expansion or relocation of a Methadone clinic in the City of Bangor. There was some concern about expanding into Suboxone."

So Conlow, with the support of members of the city council, asked the legal department to draft a moratorium, banning any new Suboxone clinics for six months. Maine has just 10 Methodone clinics. Penobscot County Metro is one of three in Bangor.

The city, like Portland, is already struggling with high rates of drug addiction and drug-related crime, and officials are weary of Bangor being the defacto treatment destination for most addicts in the north central and far northern parts of the state.

"We've been doing the work for the state, the state bureaucracy, by hosting all these agencies," says Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci. Baldacci is sponsoring the proposed moratorium on new Suboxone clinics.

"We should be having a governor or a legislature who are saying, 'What is the right answer for these thousands of people who need treatment?' but shouldn't be clustered in one community," Baldacci says.

City officials are pushing a bill in Augusta, held over to January, that they believe offers a good alternative. It would decentralize treatment away from Bangor by giving the Maine Department of Health and Human Services the authority to contract with federally-qualified health centers or medical practices to provide treatment.

Supporters of the measure say it will allow scores of patients fighting addicition to get help closer to where they live. But treatment providers say putting clinics in small rural towns won't work financially,

"Say you took Dexter, Maine," says Pat Kimball, executive director of Wellspring Incorporated, a Bangor substance abuse treatment center. "And I don't mean to say that Dexter, Maine has a drug addiction problem, but how many people in that community would be in need of Methadone treatment? Wellspring at one point attempted to open up some small clinics in a different variety of small towns. We couldn't make it work. There wasn't enough business to keep the rent going and pay for the employees and pay for the benefits."

Kimball says it makes sense, from a business perspective, why Penobscot County Metro would be looking at adding Suboxone to its treatment options. "I'm sure they've done the market share to say, 'If we had the ability, could we serve 200 people?' It's sad, but there's a need for treatment here."

Kimball says she understands why city officials would want to think things through before approving new treatment centers or allowing existing ones to expand. But she says she can't support the six-month moratorium the city council will consider Tuesday night. She says it's just another barrier to people getting the help they need.


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