The state has awarded a $900,000 contract to the nonprofit Wellspring Inc. in Bangor to open a 10-bed drug detoxification center that would serve northern Maine.

The Bangor-area detox center was a major component of a $3.7 million bill the Legislature approved this year to address the state’s growing opioid addiction crisis. Mainers have been dying from drug overdoses in record numbers – 272 in 2015 and 189 through the first six months of this year – according to state records.

The only detox center in the state is operated by the Milestone Foundation in downtown Portland, and having another one to serve the northern half of the state was identified as a priority by treatment advocates and lawmakers. Detoxification centers provide patients with a place they can stay for a few days while they are going through addiction withdrawal. Ideally patients would enter long-term treatment after detox, but demand for long-term treatment far exceeds the number of beds available in Maine.

Wellspring was the only bidder on the Bangor contract, according to DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards.

“We see this as an important step forward. We know this will be helpful to many, many people,” said Suzanne Farley, executive director of Wellspring. The contract was awarded by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services last week, but many details, such as where it will be located and when it will open, have yet to be hashed out, Farley said.

Also unknown is whether the center would use medication-assisted treatment. Originally, medication-assisted treatment – with medications such as Suboxone or Vivitrol to reduce opioid cravings – were not part of the plan for the Bangor area detox center. The plan referred to the center as a “social detox” to indicate medications such as Suboxone would not be used.

But some treatment advocates criticized that plan, arguing that the use of medications is the gold standard for opioid treatment and that not using them subjects patients to more severe withdrawal symptoms. Those who opposed the use of medications countered that the Bangor area has too few doctors certified to prescribe Suboxone.

“We’re trying to decide. We’re not certain one way or the other,” Farley said.

Regardless of whether Suboxone is used, the detox center will fill a need, Farley said. It will serve about 700 people per year. What happens to patients after they leave short-term detox is unclear, however.

About 25,000 to 30,000 people in Maine who want to enroll in long-term drug treatment programs are unable to because the state lacks sufficient capacity, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Also, Farley said, Wellspring had financial concerns about submitting a bid, such as the requirement that 40 percent of the detox center’s patients be uninsured – many opioid users have lost their jobs, don’t have insurance and can’t pay out-of-pocket for treatment.

But after crunching the numbers, Wellspring is confident the center will be financially solvent, Farley said.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said the detox center will fill a critical need in northern Maine.

“We really need these detox beds. I’m hoping it can open as quickly as possible,” Gattine said. “This is a good start, but we have a lot more work to do.”

Edwards said the detox center is “another way the department is working with community partners to provide treatment options to those struggling with addiction.”