A new drug and alcohol detoxification facility just opened in Hampden, aiming to make it easier for Mainers with addiction to take the first step toward recovery.

Last Wednesday, its first official day in business, two clients already were in residence at the New Horizon facility and staff members were busy taking phone calls.

“A lot of concerned family members are calling about loved ones,” said director Sarah Falvey.

Maine’s only other detox center is the 41-bed Milestone Recovery in Portland; some hospitals provide detoxification care as well. While not everyone elects for detox care before entering long-term treatment and recovery, advocates say these dedicated beds are key to addressing addiction in Maine, where drug overdoses are killing more than one person a day.

Falvey expects all 10 spots will fill up quickly as word spreads about the center’s opening and the opportunity to withdraw from drugs and alcohol in a safe environment.

“Fear of the detox process itself is a huge barrier,” she said.

“It’s like hell,” she added. “The worst case of flu, times 10.”

The body’s response to sudden opiate deprivation is intense, typically causing several days of extreme nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, chill, headache and body aches. In the case of alcohol, sudden withdrawal can also lead to seizures and even death. Withdrawal from other drugs, such as cocaine or bath salts, can cause psychological symptoms such as deep anxiety or depression.

Fortunately, the acute illness of withdrawal rarely lasts more than a few days or a week. Still, the prospect is enough to deter many from even attempting to get clean and sober. And for some who do make the effort, Falvey said, the first few hours and days are so terrible that they return in desperation to their drug habits.

For still others, not having a protected, drug-free environment can undermine their commitment, as friends and family members offer to ease their misery by providing a drink or a hit of the drug they’re so intensely craving.

At the New Horizon facility, these threats are managed. Clients seeking recovery must first be evaluated at an area hospital emergency department. They arrive with medical clearance and a “comfort pack” of medicines to take the sharpest edge off the withdrawal effects. Those medicines may include prescribed anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea drugs, over-the-counter pain medicines such as Tylenol or Advil, and, in the case of alcohol withdrawal, drugs to reduce the risk of seizure.

Staff members include professional counselors, a registered nurse and nursing assistants.

Clients must meet three times each day in a 30-minute group counseling session, even when they’re feeling terrible, and once each day in a one-on-one session with their own counselor. In between, they have time to rest, read and socialize with other clients. Staff-prepared meals are provided. Outdoor cigarette breaks are allowed.

Supervised 30-minute visits also are allowed, but only with visitors the client designates. And every visitor must agree to the rules: pockets emptied, no purses or backpacks, and separate bathrooms to reduce the risk of contraband entering the facility.

Clients are free to leave the program at any time, though staff will encourage them to stay until detox is complete, typically three to five days.

By the time they complete the detox program, Falvey said, New Horizon clients ideally will be ready to enter longer-term addiction recovery programs. That’s where the real work starts, as they learn to manage their cravings, understand their disease and cope more healthily with mental illness, trauma and life experiences. New Horizon works closely with all treatment providers and community support programs in the Bangor area, including abstinence-only models as well as medication-assisted treatment using Suboxone, methadone or the injectable drug naltrexone.

The New Horizon detox program accepts MaineCare and private insurance. For those who pay out-of-pocket, the cost is $110 per day, with an income-based sliding scale of discounts available.

New Horizon is a program of Wellspring, a Bangor-based substance abuse treatment organization with both inpatient and outpatient services. Executive Director Suzanne Farley said the need for a detox center in the Bangor area was identified during a 2015 regional planning process by the Community Health Leadership Board, made up of clinical leaders from area health care organizations. The group identified Maine’s growing opioid addiction crisis as its top priority.

“They determined the area needed a place where people could detox safely as part of the continuum of care,” Farley said.

In January 2016, Wellspring was awarded a three-year, $1.1 million contract by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. But it has taken collaboration with multiple area organizations to bring the program to fruition, she said, including emergency departments at Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital, the Bangor Area Recovery Network, Acadia Hospital and Penobscot Community Health Care.

Admission to New Horizon is currently limited to residents of the Bangor area, but Farley said she expects that decision will be revisited as the program gets up and running.

At PCHC, Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Noah Nesin said New Horizon will be a boon to those who are “ready to detox and start on the road to recovery.”

Nesin served on the regional Community Health Leadership Board and now serves as the medical director at New Horizon. That means he’ll be available for emergency consultations as well as for regular on-site visits with clients as needed.

PCHC treats about 400 people in the Bangor region with the opioid replacement drug Suboxone, he said, but many others prefer methadone or the abstinence-only route. Nesin doesn’t care, as long as Mainers with addiction get the help they need when they’re ready to ask.

There’s little question the new detox center will adapt and grow to meet the addiction recovery needs of the region, Nesin said.

“Bangor serves a huge piece of Maine, and we’ll have to learn from this as we go,” he said. “This is just another doorway to enter recovery, to take advantage of the moment when someone says, ‘I need to get off this stuff.’”

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Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.