More treatment must be made available to combat the nation’s drug crisis as well as a greater effort to convince drug users to seek it, a high-ranking federal official said Wednesday..

Kimberly Johnson, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse, gave a keynote address about efforts to stem that ongoing crisis at a conference Wednesday at the Augusta Civic Center on the state’s opioid epidemic. Just 10 percent of Americans who need substance abuse treatment get it, she said.

“I’m really tired of saying only 10 percent of people get treatment that need it,” she told the crowd Tuesday. “That statistic had a purpose: to highlight how few people get treatment, but it sort of makes the problem seem unsolvable. It’s so overwhelming.”

Johnson spoke at the annual meeting of the Co-Occurring Collaborative Serving Maine, a statewide group of organizations focused on solving the needs of Mainers with mental illness, drug addiction and other behavioral challenges.

Johnson used to head the Maine Office of Substance Abuse – now the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. She began working for the federal agency in February 2016.

Johnson devoted the first part of her talk to describing the federal funding that’s coming to states through laws passed by Congress in the past year to fight opioid abuse. Johnson also described steps Maine agencies can take to improve treatment and increase access to it.


Last week, Maine lawmakers showed strong support for a bill that would direct $4.8 million in state and federal dollars to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

The funding plan comes after a year in which a record number of Mainers, 378, died from drug overdoses, up from 275 in 2015. Heroin, fentanyl and opioid painkillers accounted for 313 of the deaths in 2016, according to data from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

The number of Mainers receiving naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, has more than doubled, from 426 in 2011 to 1,028 in 2015.

Just 19 percent of Mainers with drug addictions received treatment in 2015.

About $2 million is coming to Maine to expand medication-assisted treatment as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress approved late last year, Johnson said.

Johnson also spoke of other measures those in the addiction treatment community must take.


More health care providers and counselors need to treat opioid addiction, she said, and more peers should get involved in helping drug users recover.

About eight states have funded peer drug addiction support workers under their Medicaid programs, according to Johnson.

But Maine is not one of them, said Darren Ripley, the coordinator of the Maine Alliance of Addiction Recovery, an organization based in Augusta. Since 2013, Ripley has been training volunteer recovery coaches to serve as drug recovery mentors. He has trained more than 100, including about 50 in the last year, and now is trying to develop a licensing process for the trainees.

“A lot of times I’ve seen recovery coaches act as a bridge to treatment,” said Ripley Wednesday. The recovery coaches try to steer drug users to whatever treatment option appeals to them, whether it’s Suboxone or abstinence.

One difficulty for those addicted to opioids is that they might not want to enter drug treatment, Johnson said. She cited Florida, a state with an oversupply of treatment programs that have trouble attracting drug users.

“I don’t think this a ‘build it and they will come’ condition,” she said.


Most people enter drug treatment after they’ve been arrested or had other contact with the criminal justice system, Johnson said. But there must be more outreach to drug users – and that might mean trying to reach them while they’re still using.

“We can start care while people are still using,” Johnson said. “We need to give them what they want. They have to have choice.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

Twitter: @ceichacker

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