Maine health agencies have secured $6 million in federal grants to battle the opioid crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday.

The $6 million will go to community health clinics, hospital systems and the University of Maine for treatment, prevention and to help boost the workforce. Maine has been in the midst of an opioid crisis for the past several years, with 417 drug overdose deaths in 2017 and 354 deaths in 2018.

The funding for Maine was part of $160 million in federal funding announced Thursday that is being distributed across the United States.

Fifteen community health clinics across the state – including Greater Portland Health, Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor and Healthreach Community Health Centers in Waterville – each received $167,000 to help pay for medication-assisted treatment. The treatment – which includes medications that curb opioid cravings such as Suboxone and methadone – combined with therapy is considered the “gold standard” for treating opioid use disorder.

Darcy Shargo, chief executive officer of the Maine Primary Care Association, which represents the community health clinics, said the clinics have received similar amounts of funding for roughly the past two years, but the need is ongoing.

“This will help health centers build capacity to address the crisis,” Shargo said. “The battle against this epidemic is a pretty long one. Any investment to bolster capacity is much needed and much appreciated.”

The clinics are primarily funded with federal money. The number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment at federally-funded health centers increased 142 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to a statement.

“Health centers and behavioral health providers are on the front lines of the fight against the opioid crisis and substance use, especially in rural communities. Together, we can end our country’s opioid crisis and lay a foundation for a healthier country where every American can access the mental healthcare they need,” Alex Azar, health and human services secretary for the Trump administration, said in a statement.

In addition, MaineHealth, the parent company of Portland’s Maine Medical Center, MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and Penobscot Community Health Center, each received $1 million for prevention, treatment and recovery programs.

The federal money comes after Maine got short-changed in 2018, when funding was limited by a problem with the distribution formula. The state received $4.4 million last year, while New Hampshire received $22.9 million to combat the opioid crisis.

The University of Maine landed a $500,000 grant for workforce development to help make sure there are enough workers in the treatment industry.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services Maine, which represents community treatment groups, said the funding is “definitely a step in the right direction” but missing out on funding are community-based substance use treatment groups that are not affiliated with a hospital network or one of the community health clinics.

“We are still missing some pieces of this puzzle,” Shaughnessy said.

Maine’s Medicaid expansion, which started this year, will give about 70,000 previously uninsured adults access to substance use treatment.

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