Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland has launched a new program aimed at helping emergency room patients with opioid abuse problems get insured and into recovery.

Patients who come into Mercy’s emergency department because of withdrawal, an overdose or other drug-related problems will be treated and then referred to a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a drug abuse recovery coach and an adviser who can help them sign up for MaineCare if they are eligible and uninsured. Previously, such patients would simply be treated and sent home.

The program is strictly voluntary. Melissa Skahan, vice president of mission integration for Mercy, said she doesn’t believe any other Portland-area hospitals offer similar follow-up programs for opioid patients, but she was not absolutely sure.

“This is a new model that will help save lives in Maine,” Skahan said. “It’s truly a comprehensive approach that reaches someone at the moment when they may be most receptive to getting help, and it assists them along each step of the pathway to recovery.”

Skahan said a trip to the emergency room may or may not be the wake-up-call moment a patient needs to spur him or her on the road to recovery, but she said the program is designed to maximize the potential for those who do want help to succeed.

Under the new program, known as rapid access treatment, patients who meet the clinical criteria for opioid use disorder can begin Suboxone treatment in Mercy’s emergency department to counteract the immediate effects of withdrawal. The patients are then given a comprehensive assessment to begin their ongoing treatment.


Through a partnership with peer support and recovery group Amistad, Mercy can assign a recovery coach to help patients arrange follow-up counseling, place them in support groups, find them room in a sober living facility and even get them a phone so they can receive follow-up calls.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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