Arthur Blank, vice chair of the Downeast Substance Treatment Network. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Network aims to support drug treatment

BAR HARBOR — Local medical institutions and public officials are hard at work aggregating resources to deal with the opioid crisis in Hancock County.

Last week, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin overdose deaths have quadrupled since 2010.

Arthur Blank, president and CEO of Mount Desert Island Hospital and vice chair of the Downeast Substance Treatment Network (DSTN), said the declaration draws attention to the problem, but it does not fully address the scope of the issue.

“It’s not that the federal government hasn’t done anything,” he said. “There is federal funding starting to come, but the problem is so large.”

Elsie Flemings, chair of the DSTN and executive director of Healthy Acadia, said that the network is trying to expand medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders.

Some primary care providers do offer the treatment, she said. Others “didn’t have the time or expertise” to offer it. “It’s hard with the intensity of the treatment with their other duties,” she said.

According to Blank, cuts to state funding in 2014 left MDI Hospital’s intensive outpatient program without adequate resources. The hospital’s Behavioral Health Center is still open, but no longer offers medication-assisted treatment, the term for a combination of behavioral therapy and medication like Suboxone.

“The evidence says you should start with a very intense program of cognitive therapy,” Blank said. “Then, it can be a long-term treatment like you would see with diabetes.”

The DSTN is now working on a “hub-and-spokes” model of treatment. Flemings said that they are close to signing a lease in Ellsworth for the “hub,” which will employ experts for initial treatment. Primary care providers would be the spokes, offering supplemental care after rigorous therapy at the hub.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Hancock and Washington county hospitals see nearly twice as many “primary admissions” for synthetic opioids as the rest of Maine.

“For the first seven or eight meetings, each of us would talk about people who approached us for treatment and we had no place to refer them to,” Blank said. “People stopped reporting that at the meeting because each case was the same.”

MaineCare does have funding available to treat some patients with opioid use disorders, he said. The payments that patients receive cover around $1,000 a month for the typical outpatient treatment.

In Maine, there were 10,000 admissions for drug treatment in 2016, according to SAMHSA statistics. The estimated need is 70,000.


Blank said MDI Hospital supports the proposal to expand MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, on the Nov. 7 ballot. He said it would go a long way toward covering needed drug treatment.

“The people who are predominantly eligible for MaineCare are children and their parents,” he said. “When you look at who lost eligibility, it was the prototypical person who was trying to get off their addiction.”

The last time MaineCare was expanded in 2000, state debt to hospitals ballooned. Critics cite that as a major risk of the current proposed expansion, but Blank called it an “apples to oranges comparison. They chose to fund that gap by not paying hospitals,” he said.

Blank said budgeting mishaps left hospitals unpaid for services. The state was on the hook for just over 30 percent of MaineCare hospital costs during that period, but under the new expansion, the federal government is expected to cover all but 10 percent.

“The risk is much lower,” he added. “It would be a significant relief to providers dealing with the opioid problem.”

Question 2 in November will expand Medicaid eligibility to “all individuals earning incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level,” if passed.

Volunteer training

A potluck dinner and information session for those interested in helping others with substance abuse recovery will be hosted by Healthy Acadia at Your Place Inc., Old Mill Road, in Ellsworth, on Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 5:30-7 p.m.

Event attendees will meet others who are interested in promoting recovery, discussing recovery supports and building a recovery community, exploring ways to develop and become involved in a Recovery Resource Network in Hancock County, hearing about existing programs and volunteer opportunities in Hancock and Washington counties, finding out how they can become a Healthy Acadia Recovery coach volunteer or a Project Hope angel and more.

Contact Denise Black at [email protected], find Healthy Acadia on Facebook or call 667-7171, ext. 15.

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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