SANFORD – A proposal to open a methadone clinic in Sanford speaks to the growing problem of opiate-related drug addiction in Maine, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services and advocates for improved substance abuse treatment in the state.
“More and more people are showing up in recovery whose primary drug of choice is opiates,” said Deb Dettor, coordinator for the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, a nonprofit substance abuse recovery advocacy group.
Massachusetts-based Spectrum Health Systems has proposed to build and operate a clinic at 61 Eagle Drive, in an industrial complex in Sanford. According to James Q. Gulnac II, director of planning and community development in Sanford, town officials plan to meet with representatives of the company this week, in advance of a full site plan review with the Planning Board.
Methadone is a controlled substance administered in clinics to treat patients suffering from drug addiction, usually involving heroin, prescription painkillers or related opiates.
Statistics from the state Department of Health and Human Services point to the rising problem of opiate addiction in Maine. The department noted a national survey, conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which showed a higher rate of abuse of pain medications in New England than in other parts of the country.
Dr. Peter Delany, who conducted the survey, studied the rate of admission per 100,000 people age 12 and older. He found that the national rate of admission for patients suffering from non-heroin related opiate addictions was about 45 admissions per 100,000. Maine’s rate, the study found, was more than eight times that, at 386 per 100,000.
According to state data, 8,933 people were admitted for treatment of addiction to heroin, prescription painkillers, or other opiate-based drug addiction in 2010. The same data shows that only 4,874 were admitted for treatment of alcoholism, marking the first time on record that opiate addiction numbers in Maine surpassed those treated for alcohol abuse.
In 2011, data for the year so far shows that alcohol is the more popular drug of choice, but not by much. According to data dated Aug. 5, there were 6,613 patients admitted for treatment of alcoholism, but 5,374 patients admitted for opiate-related addiction.
Dettor said the 2010 data in particular is “alarming,” and said a methadone treatment center would be a big step toward improving treatment options for addicts.
“It’s a good thing, if it’s done well,” she said.
Treatment counselors have to remember, however, that administering methadone needs a support program to go with it, Dettor said, including counseling and other forms of support therapy.
“Medication is not enough,” she said. “It’s a piece of the puzzle.”
The town of Sanford changed its ordinances regarding drug treatment centers in 2008 in response to another company, not Spectrum Health Systems, applying to open a methadone clinic in the downtown area, according to Town Manager Mark Green.
“The council was very concerned that that kind of use not be in the downtown,” Green said.
That proposal, Green said, was put on hold when the Town Council set a moratorium on such clinics, effectively blocking the proposal while the council worked on the new ordinance language. The clinic in that proposal was never built in town.
The ordinance change, Green said, allowed methadone and related clinics to open in certain designated areas of town. The new proposal from Spectrum Health Systems, Green said, is unrelated to the 2008 proposal.
Details of the new proposal or how soon it could be approved are not yet available, but Gulnac said the land has already received site plan approval for a structure. That approval, he said, was the result of a past unrealized proposal to build on the property. If the new clinic’s proposed building, he said, is similar to that which got approval in the past, Gulnac said, that would simplify the clinic’s approval process.