New Horizons Detox Center, a drug and alcohol detoxification center that opened in Hampden two years ago, has recently expanded its services in a way that could help more people inside and outside the Bangor region get into recovery.

A drug and alcohol detoxification center that opened in Hampden two years ago has recently expanded its services in a way that could help more people inside and outside the Bangor region get into recovery.

When New Horizons Detox Center opened at the start of 2018, the 10-bed facility was only able to serve patients who were referred to it by the emergency departments of Bangor’s two hospitals, St. Joseph Hospital and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center.

That process could have deterred some people who wanted to use the center but did not want to stop by the hospital, according to Dr. Noah Nesin, the vice president of medical affairs at Penobscot Community Health Care, who serves as the detox facility’s medical director.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Now, New Horizons Detox Center has lowered that barrier. Starting this week, it can screen people on its own to determine whether they are eligible for its services, sparing them a trip to the hospital. It has also recently qualified to receive payments from MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid.

That’s because it now employs enough nurses to provide around-the-clock medical supervision and has received a new type of license from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services that designates it as a medical detox center, according to Nesin. Previously, it was classified as a social detox.

While the facility has only rarely been filled to capacity, Nesin said that the new licensure and staffing should help it reach more people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Roughly half of the people who have stayed there since January 2018 have been withdrawing from alcohol, and the other half have been withdrawing from opioids, Nesin said.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Suzanne Farley, the executive director of New Horizons’ parent organization, Wellspring Inc., said she hopes that the facility can now expect new revenue streams from billing MaineCare and being able to admit people directly. The center receives $700,000 in annual grant funding from the state, but that has not been enough to cover all of its expenses, particularly with the recent staffing increase.

“Even as a social model, we were trying to figure out how to get the revenue piece straightened,” Farley said. “We’re hoping that with bringing in new revenue and keeping beds filled, we should be able to break even this year, but that’s uncertain.”

With a staff that includes nurses, counselors and administrators, the detox facility provides beds and a range of support services to people who are trying to enter recovery. People generally stay at the center between three and seven days. Beyond helping people during their stays, staff also try to connect them with counseling and other long-term recovery resources once they leave.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

If they want a prescription for Suboxone, a medication that reduces opioid cravings, they are seen by providers at one of the facilities run by Penobscot Community Health Care. If they do not want to receive medication-assisted treatment, the detox center provides other medication to alleviate their nausea, muscle aches and other withdrawal symptoms. Nesin did not immediately know what percentage of patients sought medication-assisted treatment over the past two years.

“Having another resource that’s available for people, especially if they’re at the end of their rope and not knowing where else to turn, where they can have a break and get expert counseling and medical care and have a chance to pause and plan out their future treatment and recovery, that can be helpful,” Nesin said.

Nesin said that the facility had trouble holding onto staff in its early days and praised those who have kept it going for almost two years.

The detox facility also accepts private insurance and can provide income-based discounts to those who must pay out of pocket.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

When it opened, New Horizons was just the second publicly funded detoxification center of its kind in Maine. The other is 41-bed Milestone Recovery in Portland. Nesin said he is not aware of any other similar Maine facilities that have opened in the past two years. Some hospitals also provide those services.

New Horizons still cannot accept all people who are trying to recover from a substance-use disorder, but it is trying to expand its capacity to take on hard cases, according to Nesin. For example, some people who are withdrawing from alcohol may be referred to a hospital because they are at risk of having seizures. The facility has also been reluctant to take on cases of people who are withdrawing from stimulants such as methamphetamine, given their complexity, but its leaders will reconsider that approach once it has more resources, according to Nesin.

The opening of the Hampden detox center in 2018 was a long time coming. In 2015, a group of clinical leaders from the Bangor region, the Community Health Leadership Board, identified the state’s opioid addiction crisis as its top priority and recommended the creation of a detox center in the Bangor area.

In 2016, the Legislature approved funding for the facility and Wellspring was awarded a $1.1 million contract to launch it.

New Horizons is located on Main Road North in Hampden. People seeking its services can call 207-217-6521.