BANGOR, Maine — Ten organizations across the state, including Penobscot Community Health Care, will expand opioid addiction treatment to people who are uninsured or medically underserved thanks to $1.5 million in grants provided by the philanthropy group Maine Health Access Foundation, officials announced Wednesday.
The two $100,000 grants, one for this year and one for next year, will be used by PCHC to get more people into medication-assisted treatment quicker by adding a new regional clinic to expand its current treatment.
“When they are ready for treatment, they can access treatment without a waiting list,” Dr. Noah Nesin, PCHC vice president of medical affairs, said in a Wednesday news conference.
Medication-assisted treatment involves the use of counseling and behavioral therapies along with medicine used to combat cravings and withdrawal symptoms — including methadone, Suboxone or once-a-month Vivitrol, the brand name for naltrexone.
The money is already in use, Nesin said, adding that two nurse practitioners also have applied for the necessary federal permission to treat patients with Suboxone. They will be able to each serve 30 patients in the first year and 100 in the second year.
Six of the recipients — Amistad, Health Access Network, Healthy Community Coalition, MaineGeneral and Healthy Acadia — will expand the programs they offer. Four others — York Hospital, Tri-County Mental Health Services, Kennebec Behavioral Health and LincolnHealth — have planning grants to establish programs for their communities or regions.
For example, York Hospital is using the money to develop a model to provide triage, diagnosis and referrals to patients seeking medication-assisted treatment. LincolnHealth wants to create a county-wide medication-assisted treatment program to serve opiate users.
“It’s to either start providing medication-assisted treatment or ramp up what they are proving now,” Barbara Leonard of the Maine Health Access Foundation said.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act signed into law last July allows expanded Suboxone prescribing privileges to nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
“We have eight to 12 other nurse practitioners or physician assistants who in the coming year will apply for the waiver,” Nesin said.
Drug overdoses killed 376 Mainers in 2016, up from just 60 in 2000. The overwhelming majority of these deaths — 84 percent — was caused by, or in combination with, an opioid.
PCHC began addressing the epidemic a few years ago by reducing the overprescribing of opioids and creating protocols for the proper treatment for acute pain, according to Nesin. Recent data has shown that one out of every 50 people prescribed an opiate will become addicted.
The Maine Health Access Foundation was created in 1999 in a merger between Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine, the state’s largest health insurer at the time, and Indiana-based Anthem Insurance Cos. Inc., to carry on the charitable mission of Blue Cross.