WATERBORO — A bill that would restore MaineCare reimbursement rates for methadone treatment to $80 weekly from the current $60 a week will be back before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee for a second work session on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome, R-Waterboro, a public hearing on L.D. 1473 held Jan. 28 drew supportive testimony from members of law enforcement and the medical community, as well as from some legislators.

But there were questions during a work session on Feb. 17, and the bill was tabled until Wednesday because committee members wanted to hear from members of a drug task force and, Woodsome said, because some wanted to think about it.

Rep. Frances Head, a Bethel Republican on the Health and Human Services Committee, said this morning that she’s not made a decision on the issue.

“I’m undecided how I really feel,” said Head. “I need to listen and read a bit more.”

In Woodsome’s view, methadone is a treatment like any other, whether it be insulin for diabetes or prescription medication for mental illness.

“It is scientifically-based treatment with counseling involved,” he said, pointing out that the reimbursement increase by $20 a week is “critical for the counseling piece.”

“Some are not convinced as to the effectiveness of methadone,” said Woodsome. “I think they believe (it is) substituting one drug for another.”

Preliminary figures show the increased reimbursement will require about $950,000 in the 2016-17 fiscal year, and will tap the federal expenditures fund by about $1.6 million.

“I am hopeful your committee will pass the restoration of the reimbursement rate to methadone programs, as these funds are better served helping people improve the quality of their lives versus putting that money into costs related to untreated addiction such as incarcerations,” said Saco Police Chief Bradley Paul in testimony before the committee during the Jan. 28 public hearing.

“I have learned that for every $1 spent on addiction treatment, $7 is saved in crime and criminal justice costs alone,” he said. “This just makes good fiscal sense, then, to invest in this treatment, which is endorsed by the office of National Drug Control Policy as the standards of care for the treatment of opiate addiction.”

Democratic Rep. Mark Dion, an attorney and former Cumberland County sheriff, agreed that methadone treatment is critical to fighting opiate addiction.

“Medicine-assisted treatment supported by wraparound counseling services has demonstrated a capacity to interrupt the downward spiral of opiate addiction,” Dion testified before the committee.

Woodsome believes the committee will support the bill, and that it will get an “ought to pass” vote.

He introduced the bill after York County’s sole methadone clinic closed in August. Spectrum Health Systems cited lack of state financial support as a reason for the closing.

Lewiston-based Grace Street Services recently announced it was planning to reopen the clinic later this year, pending permitting, to offer both methadone and suboxone treatment.

Another bill, L.D. 1488, would establish eight pilot Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion programs based on models in Seattle and elsewhere. Sponsored by Dion, it will be subject to a work session by the Judiciary Committee on March 1, as legislators try to get a handle on Maine’s exploding opiate epidemic.

Under the LEAD model, police officers redirect low-level addict-offenders to community-based treatment rather than jail and prosecution.

“We can provide an intervention that will not turn our children, siblings and parents into felons,” Dion said in a statement. “That is not the answer. Law enforcement knows all too well the futility of that approach.”

Rep. Barry Hobbins, a Saco Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill deserves consideration.

“We have before us a bill that is fundamentally about saving lives,” he said in a statement. “It aims to increase the chances of success for Mainers in recovery while promoting public safety and reducing costs to the criminal justice system.”

Woodsome also supports Dion’s bill.

“We can make progress in fighting the drug crisis by recognizing and helping people who will benefit from treatment,” Woodsome said. “Dealers and addicts cannot be treated the same.”

Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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