York County officials and the operator of a nonprofit homeless shelter are teaming up to open a detox and residential addiction recovery program in Alfred.

The program, believed to be the first undertaken by a county government in Maine, will focus on providing a safe place to detox from heroin and opioids, plus a longterm residential recovery program. Plans for the program come amid a dramatic rise in the number of overdose deaths in Maine and as addicts struggle to find treatment.

Greg Zinser, York County manager, said the plan is a direct response to the opiate crisis in the county. “We’re looking at moving beyond the talk and actually doing something about it,” he said.

In 2015, 272 people died from drug overdoses in Maine, the most on record and a 31 percent increase over the previous year. Of that total, 107 died from heroin. In 2011, only seven of the state’s 155 drug overdose deaths were attributed to heroin.

About 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers want substance abuse treatment but don’t have access to it, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency.

The York County program could open as soon as January and would be one of three detoxification centers that exist or are planned in the state.

The Milestone Foundation in Portland offers a detox program, and health care providers and city officials in Bangor are leading a community effort to open a “social detox” facility that does not use Suboxone, the drug used to ease withdrawal symptoms. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will spend $1 million on the 10-bed Bangor facility.

FINDING LOCATION, ESTIMATING COSTS

Recovery programs are more common, although the one proposed for York County would include a longer-than-usual period of residential treatment.

York County officials are teaming up with York County Shelter Programs Inc. to create the detox and treatment center, which would permit medication-assisted treatment.

Detailed plans for the Alfred center are being developed and will need approval from York County commissioners, but Zinser is confident it will be fully supported. He anticipates presenting a complete program plan to commissioners in early August. Zinser and others involved with the project are scheduled to meet with DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew on Aug. 2 to talk about funding contracts available through the state.

The detox and recovery center will be housed in a county-owned building next to the jail currently used by the Department of Corrections for a women’s re-entry program. That program is moving to Windham at the end of the year when the department’s contract with the county ends.

Zinser estimates the annual cost to operate the program will be around $2 million, which would be funded with a mix of state and federal funds, grants and MaineCare reimbursements.

Ideally, the center will include 12 detox beds and at least 24 recovery beds, Zinser said. The center will serve both men and women.

“There are very limited beds for women in the state,” said Bob Dawber, director of York County Shelter Programs. “From Portland to Portsmouth, there are virtually no treatment beds available for men or women.”

PROGRAMS LONGER, BROADER

Dawber said the recovery program will be tailored to each individual patient and will last longer than the 28-day programs that are more common. Some individuals could stay six months or longer to treat their addiction and address underlying issues, such as employment, counseling and housing. That model of addressing multiple issues at the same time is already used by York County Shelter Programs, which offers substance abuse treatment and recovery support at Serenity House in Portland and the Ray Angers Farm in Newfield.

“The 28-day programs don’t work very well for most everybody,” Dawber said. “Our programs are six months. The recidivism rate goes down drastically at that point.”

Dawber said many details of the Alfred recovery program need to be worked out, including exactly how many detox and recovery beds will be available to the public. Some of the beds will be for men and women who are in the criminal justice system on minor charges, such as possession of a drug.

“We’re trying to keep the people out of jail who don’t need to be there,” Zinser said. “Some of these people need recovery instead of jail time.”

The detox and recovery program will include “some element of medication-assisted recovery,” Zinser said. That means some individuals may receive Suboxone and other medications to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

“We’re not talking about a methadone clinic with people coming and going,” he said.

Zinser said he anticipates that many details of how the program will operate and be funded will be finalized after meetings with state officials.

“Once we pull all this together, it’s full speed ahead,” he said.