Maine Gov. Janet Mills has signed an executive order aimed at accelerating the state’s response to the drug crisis. Mills says it is just the first step in addressing a major public health problem.
As part of her response, Mills has prepared a financial order to re-program $1.6 million in state and federal funds to expand access to naloxone, the overdose antidote also known as Narcan and to train recovery coaches across the state.
She says the ongoing crisis warrants a swift response.
“The time for action is now,” says Mills. “In the past five years, at least 1,632 people have died from an overdose; more than the population of the towns of Chesterville or Eastport.”
Last year, overdose deaths in the state totaled 418. The order uses $1 million in unallocated federal grant funds to train 250 recovery coaches and place ten more in hospital emergency departments. Recovery coaches help develop a recovery plan for patients and connect them with needed services. While there are currently over 500 coaches statewide, not all hospitals have them or have enough to cover the entire day. Gordon Smith, who Mills named as the Director of Opioid Response last month, says that the plan will distribute 35,000 doses of naloxone to hospitals and first responders.
“$600,000 of that is for purchasing Narcan, naloxone. It’s…the 35,000 doses is actually from a carryover general fund appropriation,” he says.
Both the state and federal funds could have been used by former-Gov. Paul LePage’s administration but were not, because LePage opposed the widespread availability of naloxone. Smith says that under the new administration, the federal money will also be used to develop long term prevention efforts.
Last month Mills started the long-delayed implementation of the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, an important source of treatment funds.
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew says it’s too soon to say how medicaid expansion will affect drug treatment here in Maine.
“We have been looking at other states, and we have clear evidence from states that have expanded Medicaid that you do capture a population and prevent some of the problems,” Lambrew says.
Smith says he expects that Medicaid expansion will improve treatment efforts, and that continued federal grants will be used for ongoing costs of addressing the crisis.
Mills has not indicated whether her proposed two-year state budget will include increased state funds to address the crisis. She does say that she will propose lifting the 24 month cap on medication-assisted treatment for Medicaid recipients that was imposed under LePage, a move that will require legislative action.