“Bangor’s Burden” Part 2: Addiction Treatment Controversy 

Studies suggest opiate addiction is a serious problem here. A 2011 federal report shows that Mainers are seeking treatment at a higher rate than any other state.

Bangor is home to three treatment clinics, offering replacement therapy through medications like methadone and suboxone. Many credit their clean lifestyle to these facilities.

Others choose a route without medication. Administrators from a nearby rehab program say they’re dead set against the drugs.

Ashley Hartley didn’t plan on becoming an addict. “I had back surgery after I had my first son and that pretty much started it up,” she said.

For 4 years, she’s pursued recovery. She tried outpatient treatment and counseling. Methadone and suboxone just made it worse. “It was too much of a temptation for me. I know I can sell it. I know I can get what I want,” Hartley said.

Soon she’ll graduate from a 9-month program at Manna Ministries.

“And when these guys are saying to us I’ve tried it, it didn’t work, they really mean it, they’ve tried it and it didn’t work and then need something that they can go home at night, after they graduate and say, I don’t have to get up the next morning and go down the street,” said executive director of Manna Ministries, Bill Rae.

Program director, Glen Weeks, is a recovering addict. His downward spiral started in a hospital, when a doctor prescribed synthetic morphine after an alcohol induced accident. He said, “When they decided to wean me off it, my behavior was, I couldn’t believe myself, I just, what do you mean you’re going to cut my supply in half and I’m going to have it instead of every two hours every four!”

They believe a faith based approach helps free residents from addiction, whereas methadone and suboxone perpetuate the problem. “You see the same thing happening at these clinics. There is tolerance. There is withdrawal and if you don’t think that they spend a lot of time getting the drug, you know, go at the right time of day and see the line,” said Weeks.

Many recovering addicts feel like their voice has no value. Jean Baker, President of the Bangor Area Recovery Network, says a “not in my backyard” mentality is behind city council’s drive to decentralize treatment. “People in recovery have no political currency. We don’t want to stand up in front of the general population and say I’m a person in long term recovery. I’m addicted to whatever this is. I need some help.”

Bruce Campbell serves on the board of directors for BARN. He’s worked with hundreds of addicts but was especially moved by one man’s story. A car accident was the catalyst for his addiction, “before he knew it, he was dependent on opiates and doing everything that he needed to do to get more.”

Without replacement therapy, he thinks the city’s addicted population would pursue more illicit drugs, like heroin, to avoid painful symptoms of withdrawal.”It allows you to kind of return to normal functioning in the community, same thing as if you have a cold. You take cold medication to take care of the symptoms of the cold so you can go to work the next day,” Campbell said.

Local leaders believe relapse is related to crime. City councilors say addicts are moving to the area for treatment and if they start using again, the burdens fall on Bangor. Discovery House director Brent Miller says that theory is a myth and their stats suggest addicts from away return to their own communities.”I’ll be honest with you, I’ve asked for it and I’ve never been provided information, in other words data, evidence,” said Miller.

He says many neglect to realize that their center offers holistic treatment through counseling, group therapy, and monitoring programs. He says traditional healthcare providers don’t have resources to responsibly run a program like theirs. Miller said, “But it doesn’t cover the diversion issues. It doesn’t pay you to call a person back. It doesn’t pay you to have your nurse sit and count meds. It doesn’t pay you to do random urines.”

Bangor leaders would like to see treatment dispersed throughout Maine. In the meantime, councilors are working with city officials and addiction experts to find common ground and make the community safer for all. “If we can get away from this kind of attitude of stigmatizing a chronic condition, then we will be able to move forward in a much more beneficial public health model,” said Campbell.

Right now, city officials are organizing a group to discuss the impact of these treatment facilities on the community.