Operation Hope, the Scarborough Police Department’s program that places those struggling with opioid addiction into treatment programs – usually out of state – is in danger of ending if funding to support it or a more regional approach isn’t in the works about a year from now, the Scarborough police chief said.

Chief Robert Moulton said the news this week that Operation Hope failed to land a $108,000 federal grant is a blow to the program, which has placed 223 people into treatment since it opened in October 2015. People who show up at the Scarborough police station looking for help are, if possible, immediately placed into treatment programs.

Moulton said the grant would have paid for an employee for 18 months, and the remaining $33,000 would have gone toward helping patients purchase medication-assisted treatment. Medication-assisted treatment – using drugs such as with Suboxone and Vivitrol – helps curb cravings.

Moulton said part of the new employee’s job would have been to help devise a more regional strategy and examine ways to be more effective.

“All I knew when we started this was that people were dying and needed help,” Moulton said. “We jumped off the proverbial bridge not knowing where we were going to land.”

Through Sept. 30, a total of 289 people died from drug overdoses in Maine in 2016, a new record that surpassed the 272 deaths in all of 2015.

Moulton said Operation Hope was meant as a stopgap program and not a long-term solution. He said he’s disappointed that more hasn’t been done to address the opioid epidemic.

“We will do whatever we can as long as we can. We don’t want to be in a position where we’re shutting our doors,” Moulton said. “But we can’t sustain this in the long term.”

Moulton said Operation Hope is still seeking the $108,000 in funding, but time is running out.

Part of the problem, the police chief said, is that because most people coming to Scarborough seeking help don’t have insurance or a means to pay for the treatment, the program looks for “free beds” across the country in residential treatment programs. But there are only so many “free beds” available, and Operation Hope can ask the programs only so many times for free care before they start refusing or asking for at least partial payments, Moulton said.

“It’s gotten to be very difficult to find beds for people,” Moulton said. “We were hoping for a regional or state solution, a comprehensive program to come along by now. It hasn’t.”

The program has been run using the Scarborough Police Department’s existing resources, including partial duties for two employees, and by partnering with the Portland Recovery Community Center, a nonprofit that helps people recovering from substance abuse.

Steve Cotreau, director of the Portland Recovery Community Center, which helps place patients from Operation Hope into treatment programs, said the work is “exhausting” because of the limited resources, lack of treatment programs and high demand.

“From Day 1, we treated this like ‘the house is on fire and this is a bucket of water,’ ” Cotreau said. “It was never a long-term program. But now I don’t know what the answer is or what the end will be.”