The Obama administration unveiled a $94 million initiative on Friday that will fund substance abuse treatment programs at 271 community health centers in 45 states, including four in Maine.

Under the program, health centers in Portland, Bangor, Lincoln and Waterville will split $1.2 million in federal funding in each of the next two years.

“This is a national crisis, but it’s particularly acute in New England,” said Rachel Kaprielian, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during a media conference call. “We’re taking a major step forward.”

But while the treatment community applauded the extra funding, it still falls far short of the need, they said.

“It’s not a lot of money,” said Bob Fowler, executive director of the Milestone Foundation, which operates a detox center in Portland and a residential treatment center in Old Orchard Beach. “While there has been a lot of new initiatives, they don’t respond comparably to the level of the epidemic that we’re facing. It’s really small potatoes.”

Other government measures – including a bipartisan, comprehensive $3.7 million bill approved by the Maine Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage this year – also are helpful but do not address the scope of the problem, Fowler said.


U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, agreed that the federal measure won’t solve the problem, but he said Friday’s announcement is a “welcome and significant step forward.”

“But more must be done. Maine is in the grip of a terrible epidemic,” King said.

There were 272 drug overdose deaths in Maine last year, an all-time high in the state, with the vast majority caused by heroin, fentanyl or prescription opioids.

Kaprielian said the focus of the funding will be medication-assisted treatment for opioid addictions – primarily using Suboxone and methadone – that help reduce cravings for opioids.

About 15,500 people received treatment in Maine for opioid addictions last year through state-sponsored programs, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. How many are uninsured and can’t get into treatment programs is unknown, but officials who operate substance abuse treatment centers repeatedly have told the Portland Press Herald that demand is far outpacing the available supply for the uninsured who can’t pay out-of-pocket.

It wasn’t clear how many people in each state would be helped by the $94 million initiative, federal officials said.


But since medication-assisted treatment costs about $5,000 to $7,000 per patient per year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a few hundred people in Maine would be helped based on the $1.2 million the state is receiving.

Treatment options in Maine are sparse, especially for the uninsured, and were further constricted last year when Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook and Spectrum Health Systems in Sanford closed.

The health centers receiving funding are Portland Community Health Center, Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor, Health Access Network in Lincoln and Healthreach Community Health Centers in Waterville. The Waterville center will receive $250,000 per year over the next two years, while the other three centers will be funded at $325,000 per year for the next two years.

Leslie Clark, CEO of the Portland Community Health Center, said it will hire six employees, including a doctor who will be able to prescribe Suboxone when needed. The funding also will pay for a position at Portland Community Recovery Center to help connect potential patients with treatment. Clark said the program will launch in the next few months, and unlike many programs, it will be able to provide treatment for the uninsured.

“The need is much greater than what we are going to be able to cover,” Clark said. “But this is going to make a big difference in so many people’s lives.”

King lamented that a $600 million amendment was stripped out of a Senate bill this week that would have further boosted opioid treatment programs across the country, more than six times the funding that was reported on Friday. The Senate approved a bill to expand treatment, but without providing any additional funding.

During a floor speech after the $600 million amendment he sponsored was defeated despite some Republican support – including that of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine – King said “we can’t solve this problem without money.” “The old saying in Maine, and I suspect elsewhere, is ‘put your money where your mouth is,’ ” King said.

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