On International Overdose Awareness Day, Mills Administration Announces Further Actions to Combat Opioid Epidemic

Maine Department of Health and Human Services boosts rates for substance use disorder treatment and funds recovery program with 20 locations across eight counties; Department of Labor extends employment initiative for Maine people affected by substance use disorder

Governor Janet Mills today announced her Administration is taking further action to combat Maine’s opioid epidemic, including significantly increasing reimbursement for residential substance use disorder treatment, granting new funds for a recovery program serving eight Maine counties, and extending a key employment program for Maine people affected by the opioid crisis.

The actions come on International Overdose Awareness Day, a worldwide observation of the toll drug overdoses have taken on individuals and their families. This year in Maine, drug overdoses remain at unprecedented levels, due to widespread availability of the lethal narcotic fentanyl and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Mills issued a proclamation declaring today International Overdose Awareness Day in Maine.

“Our state is diminished every time we lose a person to a drug overdose, and my heart breaks for their friends, family, and community members,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I want every person in Maine to have the opportunity to live a happy and healthy life and to contribute to the success of our state. With drug overdose deaths reaching record levels as a result of the pandemic and the increased prevalence of fentanyl, our administration is doing whatever we can prevent drug use, support recovery, and save lives. On this Overdose Awareness Day, let us honor the memories of those we have lost by redoubling our efforts to save others.”

“International Overdose Awareness Day is a moment to mourn every person we’ve lost to the opioid epidemic and recognize all those who have survived and are now working on their recovery,” said Gordon Smith, Director of Opioid Response. “We must also thank the legions of health care workers, emergency responders, law enforcement, and Good Samaritans whose timely interventions have helped keep people alive during an overdose, and to the recovery workers, addiction counselors and others who are making comprehensive and dedicated efforts to help Maine people overcome substance use disorder and thrive.”

As part of the today’s actions, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is dedicating $2.1 million in MaineCare funds to increase reimbursement rates for SUD providers to support access to effective substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. All levels of SUD residential care will see increases, including a 77 percent increase for detoxification providers that will boost rates from $217 to $385 a day per individual and a 56 percent increase for halfway house services that will raise rates from $106 to $165 a day per individual. The new rates were funded through the biennial budget signed into law by the Governor in July and recently approved by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The new rates will take effect Nov. 1, 2021.

DHHS has also awarded a $300,000 grant to Healthy Acadia that will allow the MaineRecoveryCorps program to continue supporting Maine people with substance use disorder in 20 locations across eight counties, including five county jails and several health care facilities. The program currently supports 111 Maine people in recovery.

“Saving lives from drug overdoses includes ensuring that those struggling with substance use disorder can get high-quality treatment and help when they need it,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “Increasing reimbursement rates for this critical service and supporting recovery coaches who guide Maine people on the path to recovery bring us that much closer to changing the course of the opioid epidemic. On this Overdose Awareness Day, we honor those we have lost, recognize those who survived, and remind all Maine people that help is always available.”

Additionally, the Maine Department of Labor is extending its Connecting with Opportunities Initiative, a program for Maine people affected by the opioid epidemic to receive education, skills training, and job search assistance through the end of 2022. The Initiative also prepares Maine people for careers in fields that directly treat substance use disorders, such as counseling, addiction treatment, and mental health care. Funded by a federal grant to MDOL in 2020, more than 400 Maine people have entered the program to date.

“Connecting with Opportunities helps facilitate and strengthen the community partnerships and collaboration with employers necessary to tackle the opioid epidemic and its impact on workers,” said Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman. “This grant serves those directly affected by the opioid crisis, and those who want to provide critical support to people affected by substance use disorder. This important program invests in Maine people and helps increase the number of professionals to provide desperately needed services we need across Maine. We encourage anyone interested to visit the program’s website for enrollment.”

"The program has been the most impactful single resource available to citizens returning to Maine's communities from prison and jail,” said Bruce Noddin, founder of the Maine Prisoner Re-Entry Network. “The program's holistic approach to workforce development, collaborative spirit, and focus on the opioid crisis have made it possible for folks who are incarcerated and impacted by the opioid crisis to ‘dare to dream’ about their future. The program’s positive impacts are felt by individuals, but these positive impacts ripple throughout our communities and the entire state of Maine.”

Today’s actions are the latest by the Mills Administration as part of its continued, comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic in Maine.

Additional efforts include DHHS’ work to transform the system of services for people with behavioral health challenges, including through more than $110 million in investments as part of the biennial budget to support prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, all levels of treatment, crisis care, and recovery assistance.

These investments will expand MaineCare access to parents with substance use disorder; support three new evidence-based programs for pregnant, parenting, and postpartum Maine people; expand substance use treatment beds; increase reimbursement rates for intensive outpatient treatment; and support the addition of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics that offer 24/7 high-quality, comprehensive care. DHHS in July also issued $14.6 million in supplemental MaineCare payments to behavioral health providers to help them cope with the effects of the pandemic.

The Administration has also launched OPTIONS, a program which placed liaisons around the state to connect people who have overdosed to recovery services and treatment, promote drug prevention and harm reduction strategies, and distribute naloxone, the lifesaving overdose medication.

OPTIONS liaisons now provide critical services to people in 14 Maine counties. From March-July of this year, OPTIONS liaisons have supported 495 people across the state to connect them with crucial treatment and recovery programs, harm reduction resources, and distribute naloxone kits. In June, DHHS and the Partnership to End Addiction launched a free texting service that alerts Maine residents to any sudden increase in overdoses in their counties and connects them with OPTIONS resources.

Earlier this year, Governor Mills signed emergency legislation to establish an Accidental Drug Overdose Death Review Panel within the Office of the Attorney General. The panel will review a subset of overdose deaths to learn from the circumstances surrounding them and adjust policies when needed, with the goal of reducing more overdose deaths.

This followed the launch of mainedrugdata.org, an online portal for detailed and timely local data about the harms of drug use in Maine, launched earlier this year by the University of Maine, in collaboration with the Office of the Attorney General and Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future.

Other opioid-response measures include:

  • Increasing the number of Recovery Community Centers from 9 to 15 and the number of Recovery Residences from 101 to 120.
  • Purchasing 182,375 doses and distributing 110,808 doses of naloxone through public health and harm reduction organizations.
  • Recruiting and training over 530 new recovery coaches.
  • Launching the Maine Maternal Opioid Misuse (MOM) program to improve care for pregnant Mainers and new parents struggling with opioid use disorder
  • Increasing the availability of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to incarcerated individuals in Maine and connecting them to community providers upon release.
  • Updating the state’s Opioid Response Strategic Plan with new recommendations (PDF) to address challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For information about substance use disorder support and resources, call 211, text your zip code to 898-211, email info@211Maine.org, visit the Maine 211 website, or visit the OPTIONS website.

According to the Maine Office of the Attorney General, 52 Maine people are believed to have died from a drug overdose in July, while 835 others are known to have survived an overdose. In 2021, 77 percent of overdose deaths in Maine are linked to fentanyl, often in combination with other drugs, and 96 percent are considered accidental.