MPBN investigation eviscerates Gov. LePage’s addiction policies

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Gov. Paul LePage explains his biennial budget proposal to reporters on Jan. 9 at the State House in Augusta. – Christopher Cousins | BDN

During the drive from my kids’ daycare to my office over the past three mornings, I’ve been treated to one of the best investigative reports I’ve ever heard from a Maine journalist.

Maine Public Radio Deputy News Director Susan Sharon’s ongoing series “State of Withdrawal” examines Maine’s endemic opiate addiction problem, how it’s being addressed by government and health care providers, and what the effects of the treatment overhaul proposed by Governor LePage in his biennial budget would be.

Sharon’s interviews with addiction treatment and policy experts make clear that ending MaineCare coverage for more than 3,000 methadone patients and attempting to switch them over to other drugs likely won’t help those who are in treatment, won’t necessarily save the state any money, and may not be possible at all.

Yesterday’s segment examined how the plan collides with health research, good public policy and the pure pharmaceutical limitations of the drugs in question. Today’s segment examines the logistics of Suboxone treatment, including investigating the LePage administration’s assertion that there are 118 physicians available to prescribe Suboxone in Maine.

Other reporters have quoted experts who refute this claim, but have largely left it as a he said/she said disagreement. Sharon, on the other hand, actually contacted those supposed providers. She found that fewer than fifteen would even accept new patients, and some of those had waiting lists and other restrictions. She proved that the state’s estimation that each physician could serve 100 patients to accommodate those cut off from other treatment options is absolutely ridiculous.

The piece even includes audio from some of those doctors’ answering machines and you can hear them turning away new patients in their own words.

“For these and other reasons, treatment providers say there’s no way the state’s plan can work,” Sharon concludes. “Even if all 3,000 methadone patients wanted to switch to Suboxone, there aren’t enough doctors willing to prescribe it.”

There’s a lot more to this story. I hope Sharon is able to address, among other topics, the broader potential effects of suddenly cutting off so many opiate addicts from treatment.

The report continues tomorrow with a segment featuring the voices of addicts themselves. You can get caught up right here.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.