Suzanne Farley is the executive director of Wellspring, Inc., parent organization of New Horizons Detox Center. New Horizons is a drug and alcohol detoxification center that opened in Hampden two years ago and has recently expanded its services in a way that could help more people inside and outside the Bangor region get into recovery. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Creating more beds for people to detox from alcohol or drugs is one of many potential uses for Bangor’s $20 million in pandemic relief funds, but the head of Bangor’s primary detox center said there are better uses for the money.

Bangor is one of six Maine municipalities that received federal funding awards ranging from $9 million to $46 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus package Congress passed in March 2021 in part to help states and local governments recover from the pandemic.

While other cities like Portland and Lewiston have spent some money already, Bangor city leaders are still debating how to use the city’s lump sum. Some uses for the money city councilors reviewed during a Dec. 14 workshop ranged from mental health assistance to installing broadband throughout Bangor.

More detox beds for those with substance use disorder was one of a series of needs Bangor public health leaders identified as a possible use for the untouched pandemic relief money. Other needs include increased access to Narcan and more housing of all types.

Detoxing is usually the first step in someone’s journey to recover from substance use disorder but Suzanne Farley, executive director of Wellspring, a Bangor-based substance use treatment center, sees a greater need for longer-term residential treatment programs.

The 10 detox beds in Wellspring’s New Horizons detox program in Hampden are 70 percent full at any given time, Farley said. This is due to people calling and making an appointment to begin the detox process, then never showing up.

“We may have the beds filled in the morning with people scheduled to come in later in the day, but they never come,” Farley said. “People get nervous and think maybe they’ll try again next week or another time.”

Farley said Wellspring’s detox center doesn’t use a waitlist system because of the number of no-shows they encounter. Instead, the center uses a “rolling admission” system that allows someone to begin the detoxing process as soon as they’re ready.

“I’d rather be available to people in real time so if they call and need a bed, they can get one either that day or the next day usually,” she said.

When someone does enter the facility to detox from substances in their system, Farley said it’s most often from alcohol or opiates, and the process usually takes anywhere from two to six days.

The facility keeps patients for five to seven days, per MaineCare and licensing requirements, but a person’s stay can be extended to 10 days if needed, Farley said.

Wellspring’s detox program has served 439 people so far this year. Of those, 16 percent had detoxed at the center before.

While detoxing is an important resource, Farley said attention should also be paid to the next steps of a person’s recovery process.

“Detoxification, in and of itself, does not constitute complete substance use disorder treatment,” according to Taylor Bryan Turner, the assistant regional administrator of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s  Region 1 Office, whose service area includes Maine.

“Withdrawal management alone without continued treatment has been shown to be ineffective in achieving recovery and must be linked to appropriate outpatient care once the patient completes the initial withdrawal management,” Turner added.

When someone finishes detoxing in Wellspring, Farley said they either transition to a lower level of care such as outpatient counseling, or they advance to higher-level care such as an intensive outpatient service.

Wellspring offers three six-month residential treatment programs: one for women with 15 beds, one for men with 15 beds, and one for women with young children that has 10 beds. Farley said these three programs are almost always at capacity with a two- to four-month waitlist.

Farley said the residential programs aim to serve people “who experience more of a chronic, long-term usage and have been through lesser levels of care without success.”

While a multiple-month program is what some people need, Farley said Bangor could benefit from a longer term residential treatment program. This would catch the people who need extra time in a center, but don’t need a months-long program.

“It’s one thing to get detoxed but it’s going to take a lot longer for them to get well,” Farley said. “Their body needs to heal and for some people, a 30- or 45-day program is just the ticket after detox to get them stabilized. It depends on the nature and level of addiction they’re dealing with.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...