WATERBORO — In Biddeford, of seven people who died from drug overdoses in 2015, six were from heroin, according to Police Chief Roger Beaupre’s annual report.

In Sanford, six people died of overdoses attributed to various drugs in 2015, said Deputy Police Chief Tim Strout.

Now, a bill designed to help stem the tide of addiction has advanced out of legislative committee in Augusta, one of several bills the Legislature is mulling this season to address Maine’s heroin and opiate epidemic.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday gave unanimous approval to a bill that would increase MaineCare reimbursements to outpatient methadone treatment providers, advancing it to a vote of the full Legislature.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, originally sought to restore the weekly reimbursement rate of $80 that was in place before budget cuts in 2012 reduced it to $60. But he said he’s happy with the $72 reimbursement that the committee approved.

“A compromise was reached, and I think that’s a win,” said Woodsome. “If, and hopefully that’s what happens, the bill passes through the full Legislature and becomes law, we will still see a $12 increase for methadone reimbursement. It may not be the $20 increase originally sought, but it’s definitely a win.”

He said an increased reimbursement is critical to the counseling portion of the treatment.

The amended version of the bill specifies that the increase will be in effect through June 30, 2017, pending review by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“That’s OK too – we should be making sure policies are working as intended,” Woodsome said.

Woodsome sponsored the bill after Spectrum Health Systems announced in August it planned to close its outpatient methadone clinic in Sanford after operating just 18 months.

It was the only methadone clinic in York County and treated about 100 patients daily, though its capacity was 200, according to Kristin Nolan, Spectrum’s vice president of outpatient care. Spectrum Health Systems Chief Operating Officer Kurt Isaacson said the clinic closed because the reimbursement through MaineCare for patient services had been cut twice in the past two years.

Other addiction centers closed as well – in May, Mercy Hospital announced it planned to close its recovery center in Westbrook, citing low reimbursement rates.

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

Woodsome, meanwhile, said he was thrilled with the Health and Human Services Committee’s unanimous vote.

“It shows that when you are willing to present information, discuss an issue seriously and show the importance of a policy, we can get things done in Augusta,” he said. “In advocating for this legislation, I made sure to do my research and to talk with everyone I could, regardless of political party or prior stance on the issue.”

— 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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