Groups Substance Abuse Treatment Now Available

By Lura Jackson

 

An epidemic has Maine in its grip, and the signs are indicating that it is not relenting. As of 2016, the opioid crisis in Maine is claiming more lives on an annual basis than car accidents, suicides, or breast cancer. According to research by Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine, Washington County is the hardest hit location in Maine, with almost double the amount of overdose deaths by capita. To help families and individuals overcome the battle with illegal opioid use, a new organization has opened its doors in Calais. Groups, located at 23 Washington Street, already maintains a steady client list of 70 individuals a week since opening in April. 

A national company that began its operations three years ago, Groups has spread to 22 locations across five states. With its long-standing struggle with opioids, Maine was among the first to host a Groups location in the southern part of the state. The demand indicated in the southern part of the state was so pronounced that the need for opening more offices quickly became clear. The opportunity to open an office in Calais emerged last fall, and efforts were soon underway to get the branch fully functional. The first group therapy sessions were held the week of April 11th.

Groups utilizes a combination of group therapy and Suboxone treatment to help its clients, culminating in an average six month opioid abstinence rate for clients at 85 percent. Individuals that are interested come in on a Monday or Tuesday for a 45-minute counselor intake interview; if the interview is successful they are seen on Wednesday by Dr. Paul Gosselin through a telemedicine service for a 15-minute interview. Eligible clients can receive their prescription that same day. The following week, clients are required to come in for mandatory hour-long group therapy sessions to receive authorization for another week’s worth of medicine. Group sessions are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; as of next week, there will be ten sessions available for clients to attend.

“I have seen phenomenal changes in some of our clients,” said Ashley Melhiser, clinic coordinator of the Calais office. “It’s like a whole new person when they walk through the door after a few weeks. It’s a feel-good moment when you start to realize that people are really benefitting from the program.”

Melhiser, who has lived in the area for the past 16 years and admits to having substance abuse within her family, said that she was initially skeptical about the program. “I kind of had a bad taste in my mouth as far as treatment goes just because the methadone clinic has not been completely successful,” Melhiser said. “But being here, seeing it, and knowing how the program works, I think it’s a real asset to the community.”

The clients that are utilizing Groups are from the Calais and Eastport areas primarily, as well as from Princeton and all points in between. Approximately ten clients were shifted down to Calais from the Ellsworth office once the Calais branch opened. 

Just under half of the clients are from the reservation, Melhiser said. “The drug problem is a huge epidemic in Washington County, but when you focus on the reservations, it’s even worse there,” Melhiser said. “They don’t have as many resources, they don’t have the funding, and they’re in desperate need of some kind of intervention.” Groups has been in contact with the Passamaquoddy tribe and Melhiser and CADC Ray Brown will be doing satellite work at Pleasant Point as soon as the arrangements can be solidified. Brown, the former director of the Discovery House with eleven years of experience, handles all of the counselor intake interviews and manages the group sessions.

The cost for Groups is $65 a week, which does not include the prescription cost itself. Clients that have insurance have all successfully been able to levy the cost of their prescriptions through their insurers, and Melhiser said that Groups may be able to accept insurance for their weekly costs by the start of the year, a concept that she sees as both good and potentially bad. “Insurance will open up more doors to people that can’t afford it,” said Melhiser. “But then you’ll have people that will abuse it because it’s going to be on somebody else’s dollar. Private pay makes them more responsible for their treatment.”

Groups has had its challenges with some clients in the Calais area. The treatment requires clients to submit to random pill counts and urinalysis on a weekly basis. If benzodiazepines or amphetamines are detected in the client’s system – whether taken legally or illegally – or if no Suboxone is detected in the client’s system, then the client will not receive a prescription for that week. Subsequent failures will result in the client’s dismissal from the program for a month or longer depending on the circumstances. 

 All in all, though, Melhiser said that the treatment is going well for most clients. “I think people are really benefitting from it, and I’m hoping that once we weed out the bad seeds and open up the insurance aspect of it, I think it’s going to do even better.”

To find out more about Groups, call Melhiser at 573-2402, e-mail her at  Ashley.melhiser@joingroups.com, or stop by the office at 23 Washington Street in Calais.