Maine Drug Clinic Blames Closing on Governor’s Anti-Treatment Stance

By Paul Gaita 08/27/15

Gov. Paul LePage continues his fight against compassion and common sense.

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As drug overdose fatalities and admissions for heroin addiction treatment continue to skyrocket in the state of Maine, a non-profit addiction treatment center will close its doors, citing the divisive policies of Republican Governor Paul LePage as the motivating factor.

The Massachusetts-based Spectrum Health System opened its sole facility in Sanford, Maine, to 38 Medicaid patients in 2014. That number grew to 85 by the following year, but found its ability to properly treat its patients hampered by LePage’s restrictive approach to coverage and funding.

In 2014, he removed hundreds of Maine residents from receiving coverage for methadone and Suboxone treatments through the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, and turned down an opportunity to add millions of dollars in federal grant money to the state’s coffers for addiction treatment.

Spectrum President and CEO Charles Faris summed up his agency’s frustration with LePage in a news release that read, “In Maine, Governor LePage is discussing calling in the National Guard to combat the state’s drug epidemic, while leaving multi-million dollar grant opportunities for funding treatment on the table. As a not-for-profit, we rely upon our partnerships in government; unfortunately, we feel the current administration lacks interest in supporting the evidence-based solutions we provide.”

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services responded by stating, “Spectrum has made the business decision to close its only methadone treatment clinic in Maine after a short time in operation. We are not certain if treating just 2% of those receiving treatment in Maine had a bearing on the decision to close.”

The Spectrum facility is the second treatment site to shutter this year. Mercy Hospital in Portland, which provided Suboxone treatment and counseling for patients, closed its addiction recovery center in Westbrook in May. Its chief medical officer cited the clash between an increased need in heroin treatment and the exclusions enacted on MaineCare residents as a key factor in the closing.

Opiate addiction has reached critical levels in Maine, with the number of residents seeking treatment in 2014 at 3,464, twice the number reported in 2010. LePage addressed the situation at a summit in Augusta on August 26, which detailed a plan that offered equal focus on education, prevention and treatment of addicts in addition to law enforcement involvement, including the National Guard, though their role remained unspecific.

Critics and proponents alike were supportive of LePage’s intentions, though as Democratic Representative Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, noted “I appreciate what was said in the media briefing, that this is not a war. How we thought that the rank-and-file police were able to solve what is primarily a public health issue is where we misplaced our priorities and money. We need to re-balance that formula. The day that we can say addiction and drug abuse is first and foremost a medical issue is when we’ll have turned a corner in this fight.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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