Expanding medication-assisted treatment is a positive move forward, but thousands of Mainers will still need care before the crisis subsides.
By The PPH Editorial Board 12.22.16
For years now, Maine’s response to a mounting drug crisis has missed one key component. Medication-assisted treatment with Suboxone or methadone is the gold standard for opiate addiction, yet its availability in Maine, particularly to the uninsured, pales in comparison to the need.
But with an average of one Mainer dying each day from a drug overdose, there is now real movement to fill that void.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that it will use $2.4 million in state and federal funding to create 359 new medication-assisted treatment slots for the uninsured spread among five locations, targeted specifically where the agency says it has found wait lists.
Along with a nascent effort by Maine Behavioral Healthcare to offer Suboxone-based treatment and counseling to anyone in its coverage area who needs it, the state’s initiative represents a significant step forward in the fight against the devastating opioid epidemic.
It also represents, if not always in policy at least in rhetoric, a departure for the LePage administration.
The administration has in the past expressed support for medication-assisted treatment as long as it is prescribed along with counseling, and DHHS has repeatedly said that the state should follow the best evidence-based practices, under which medication-assisted treatment would surely fall.
But Gov. Paul LePage himself rarely has been that precise with his own wording. Nor has he been accurate in his descriptions of addiction and treatment.
He’s denigrated methadone treatment before, based in part — ridiculously — on what he said he saw while sitting in a car outside of a methadone clinic. He has time and time again presented addiction as a moral failing, and he has said that so few heroin addicts recover that policy should focus on the next generation.
In this case more than most, words matter. The stigma that surrounds drug addiction contributes in a significant way to perpetuating the crisis. When addiction is seen as a failure of will and not the chronic brain disease that it is, people in the throes of addiction are less likely to seek help, doctors are less likely to take the steps necessary to prescribe Suboxone, and the public is less likely to support investments in treatments that are proven to work…