A taste of methadone: Other cities report few problems as Lewiston eyes first clinic

LEWISTON — Joey Masse began going to a methadone clinic last February after using heroin and OxyContin for seven years.

Methadone treatment: Patients at admission, and one year later

45.64: Percentage employed at admission

60.4: Percentage employed one year later

93.96: Percentage living independently at admission

97.99: Percentage living independently one year later

93.29: Percentage of clients using drugs at admission

6.04: Percentage using one year later

Source: Community Substance Abuse Center, based on a 2009 survey of 149 patients at Merrimack River Medical Services clinic in Portland.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Justin Hume of Westbrook takes his daily dose of methadone at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland on Thursday morning.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Justin Hume of Westbrook takes his daily dose of methadone at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland on Thursday morning.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

A dose of methadone from Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Justin Hume of Westbrook gets his daily dose of methadone at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland on Thursday morning from nurse Courtney Clark.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Joey Masse, 31, of Lewiston talks about how Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland has been a life-changing experience. Instead of roaming the streets looking for drugs, his daily dose of methadone "makes me feel normal" and allows him to spend more time with his two young children, he said.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

At the doctor's office at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland, patients are given a full physical exam prior to receiving treatment.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Posters created by patients at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland, such as the one above, are posted throughout the building.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Posters created by patients at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland, such as the one above, are posted throughout the building.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Posters created by patients at Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland, such as the one above, are posted throughout the building.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Jennifer Minthorn is program director of Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland.

Methadone Clinic in Portland
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The exterior of Merrimack River Medical Services in Portland.

He had a wife and young girls to think about.

The 31-year-old meets a Community Concepts car every day at 4:30 a.m. for a ride to Portland’s Merrimack River Medical Services, a nondescript office-space-turned-methadone-clinic that serves 352 patients. Many travel from here for a shot of cherry-flavored drink that addicts say takes away the obsessive quest for heroin, OxyContin and other opiates.

In the past 11 months, Masse has put on weight, started eating three meals a day, and says he’s focused more on his daughters, 3 and 7.

“I’m getting back to the things I like in life,” he said.

He has Lewiston friends who can’t make the drive. They’re still using.

The Massachusetts company behind the Portland clinic is eyeing Lewiston for another site. It would be the state’s ninth methadone clinic after one closed in Rockland. There are three in Bangor, three in the Portland area. This is the first bound for this region of Maine.

It’s close enough that Masse could walk to the proposed location in the business park on Mollison Way.

Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere says he’s not thrilled, but he’s keeping an open mind and asking lots of questions, like what’s to keep someone from overdosing? What makes a location a good fit? And, what about reckless drivers high on drugs?

The head of the state’s Office of Substance Abuse said there’s a lot that the public doesn’t understand about methadone clinics. For instance, doses are given in liquid form instead of pills; it’s tougher to cheek and resell, a common worry.

“The belief is that when something like that comes into your area, that crime is going to go up, drug use is going to go up and there’s going to be more problems,” said Office of Substance Abuse Director Guy Cousins.

But numbers show patients get jobs. They don’t see as much of the police and they reconnect with family. Police in Portland and Westbrook said this week they have few complaints about their local clinics.

However, not every experience is ideal. Waterville police recently found kids wandering a clinic parking lot, left behind while mom or dad went in to dose. They’ve responded to fights, parking complaints and increased accidents, and have caught people selling drugs.

“There are a number of social service agencies in the community that really challenge the police, and the methadone clinic is one of them,” said Waterville Chief Joe Massey.

Community Substance Abuse Centers, the company behind Merrimack River, has called a neighborhood meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ramada Inn to field concerns about its Lewiston proposal.

Plans call for retrofitting 7,000 square feet of a former TD Bank, said Community Substance Abuse Centers Development Vice President Bob Potter. Many clients, he said, would be in and out at dawn.

He maintains that the clinic's presence wouldn’t draw addicts to the city. They’re already here.

“I think methadone clinics should be in every community,” Potter said. “If I open this clinic and I don’t have 250 people in there within two years, I’ve made a bad business decision.”

A long, daily commute

Chief Bussiere plans to tour the Community Substance Abuse Centers' Portland facility next week. From the outside, at its location on outer Congress Street, the low, brown building looks like it could house state office workers. It opened almost four years ago in former IDEXX lab space.

Jennifer Minthorn has been program director in Portland for three years.

Dosing starts at 5:30 a.m. A staffer monitors the parking lot for unfamiliar faces before opening the door. Once inside, patients — all there voluntarily — scan an ID card into a computer and get a color-coded message that directs them to a staffer or to the dosing line.

At one of two stations, nurses look for telltale signs of substance abuse — irregular pupils, tremors, the smell of alcohol — before dispensing a small, clear cup of pink methadone. (Signs of using drugs will trigger a referral to the medical director first, Minthorn said; a random urine sample that screens positive for drugs will be brought to the attention of a counselor.) Without a long line, or issues, it’s a quick process, over in 10 minutes.

How frequently a person visits the clinic and how high their dose is depends on the level of addiction, she said, something determined by the clinic doctor during a thorough intake exam.

Minthorn said 50 of her 352 patients have graduated to being able to take up to six doses home; they're people who’ve consistently stuck with their treatment plans over a long period.

She’d like to grow her patient base to 500. Clinics a few miles away — CAP Quality Care in Westbrook and Discovery House in South Portland — already see 500 each.

Minthorn has called police only once for a fight, between a man and a woman with history. She can recall two instances of people trying to divert methadone. In one case, a woman kept a cotton ball in her cheek, trying to save the dose for her boyfriend who’d left the clinic.

In 2009, 46 percent of her patients were employed at admission. After a year’s treatment, 60 percent had jobs — evidence, she said, of people getting their lives back.

Clinical Manager Tim McBrady said patients must spend time with counselors as part of treatment. One counselor teaches a class on things recovering addicts can do in their new, spare time, including hobbies such as scrapbooking.

Getting to Portland from the Lewiston area is an issue in bad weather, he said, when some car services like Community Concepts won’t go out on the roads. That, McBrady said, creates the potential for relapse.

One former Buckfield couple at the clinic Thursday said they moved to Auburn to shorten the trip. They’ve commuted every day for four years.

“Christmas morning, we came," the woman said. "I got up at 6 o’clock, and that wasn’t to put presents under the tree.”

He’s 32; she’s 28. Both are on disability. They declined to give their names, saying some family members don’t know they go. Both said their addictions began with legitimate prescriptions for painkillers whose use spiraled out of control.

Her methadone is covered by MaineCare, as is often the case statewide. He pays $90 a week out of pocket. They spend $8 on gas and $4.50 on tolls every day.

Before treatment, he would rip through a month’s worth of OxyContin, 120 pills, in five days.

“You’d have to buy more off the street,” he said. “You’re doing things you’d never think you’d do. You just can’t control it.” He credits the methadone clinic with saving his life.

Friends and family have complained that they can’t believe a clinic could move into Lewiston. “I sit right here; they’re complaining, they don’t even know. That’s how stigmatized it is,” he said.

State: Lewiston ‘a good choice’

In 1996, 200 people sought methadone treatment in Maine, according to the state. That number is now around 4,000. Those patients are coming off an addiction to prescription pain medicine more often than an addiction to heroin, said substance abuse expert Cousins.

“The whole idea of somebody taking a drug to get off drugs, there’s a percentage of people out there who 1) don’t understand it and 2) don’t agree with it,” he said.

Clinic location has typically been driven by NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard), Cousins said. “Oftentimes, the (reaction) is, we don’t want anything in our community, and the reality is the problem exists within the community. Bringing services closer to people makes the most sense.”

Many clinics have settled in business or commercial districts. One Bangor clinic is in a strip mall.

Based on need, Community Substance Abuse Center's Potter said the state told his company, “Lewiston would be a good choice.” It would be center’s 13th clinic in New England.

“I have letters from all of our abutters from all of our clinics that the methadone clinic (doesn’t) cause a problem," Potter said. "I’m sure there’s the fear that it will. The red flag goes up when you say methadone: ‘Addicts are going to be flooding into Mollison Way.’

"The bottom line is the people coming into Mollison Way are patients who need medical treatment for their addiction and we’ll be able to provide a safe, professional space with qualified masters-level clinicians and doctors to provide them the opportunity to become clean,” he said.

The for-profit facility would employ 15 to 18 people. He’d like to open in late spring.

The company has not approached another Maine town: “I will get serious about looking out by the seacoast once we get Lewiston up and operating,” Potter said.

Deputy Chief Peter Arno of the Bangor Police Department said he never envisioned his city would be home to three clinics. They see a total of 1,500 patients.

“I think more than anything else, it’s a sign of the significant opiate drug problem that we have in the region,” he said.

The first, opened 10 years ago, generated a lot of concern and led to the creation of a community advisory group with abutters, police and city officials, Arno said.

“I guess looking at it, I don’t see the types or number of times we respond (to be) out of the ordinary," Arno said, adding, "It has had an impact. They are dealing with an extremely difficult clientele.”

Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett spent 21 years at the helm of Bangor’s city government before coming here. He favors creating a similar community advisory group in Lewiston.

Once Community Substance Abuse Centers' business application is submitted to the city, it will have to face the Planning Board, then the City Council, which will hold at least two public meetings.

“It’ll be a long process, with plenty of opportunity for the public to ask questions, get information,” Barrett said.

Treatment, Westbrook Police Chief Bill Baker said, is part of dealing with addiction, along with prevention, education and law enforcement.

"It's clear that people attending the clinic have baggage, and that does manifest itself in some challenges from time to time," he said. "On balance, I think it's worth dealing with the down side in order to get the benefit treatment and rehabilitation they provide."

Portland Police Commander Vernon Malloch said his officers haven’t stepped up patrols around its clinic. “There hasn’t been reason to,” he said.

From her office next door at New England Title, Jan-Marie Prince has a clear view of Merrimack River Medical Services. It feels “sketchy,” she said, and can be strange to see people walking up with baby carriages, but the clinic hasn’t bothered business and it’s never given her trouble.

“I give them kudos for getting here,” Prince said. “Nobody wants a prison in their backyard; nobody wants a clinic in their backyard. They want them — but not in their backyard. Just give them a chance.”


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Firstly, anyone can die as a

Firstly, anyone can die as a result of mis-using prescription drugs. That does not mean they do not have value when used properly.

Secondly, in the 60's and 70's, many MMT patients were, in fact, "street people" addicted to heroin, often homeless and jobless and in destitute circumstances. This is no longer the case. Nowadays, over 75% of those attending a methadone clinic are there for addiction to prescription painkillers and come from all walks of life. No one at a clinic is "getting high" on methadone--it does not cause any high in stable patients. Only persons who do not have a fully developed tolerance to opiate drugs will feel anything at all from a methadone dose.

i don't agree with your,,,,,,,

statements that no one at the clinic is "getting high" on methadone. have you ever spoken to a junkie? have you ever asked them if they get high from their dosage they get? well, let me tell you a little story about my experiences with methadone clinic junkies. i lived in the hood,,,,deep in the hood,,,in haverhill massachusetts for a long time. in case you don't know, haverhill is right next to lawrence, the place where the company that wants to put this clinic in lewiston is from. they also have a clinic there as well. i know of several of the local street kids from my section of the hood that were patients of the methadone clinic in lawrence. they used to laugh when they talked about how they used to love getting up and going and getting their dose every morning, because they loved getting wasted first thing in the day. and, i gotta argue the point that the methadone patients are not weened off of the stuff like the theory says. instead, after being there as a patient for so long, their dosages were in fact increased all on the premise that their bodies were becoming adjusted to the dosage and to get the desired effect, the dosages had to be increased. then, with one of them, even though he had been attending the methadone clinic religiously for six years, and had been wanting to see the day that he was weened off of the synthetic opiate that now had control of his body, he was labeled by his doctor as having been on the drug for so long that he was in fact addicted, and that therefor made him a permanent candidate and patient on the basis that if they did stop his treatment, he'd die!

and, i gotta say that you can tell the rest of your b.s. to my dead cousin, pate cote. he's the cousin of mine that o.d.'d on methadone a little over a year ago. methadone that he had gotten out of his dieing grandfather's medicine bottle. he ran some of it through his vein and died either five minutes before or five minutes after his grandfather. we could never properly distinguish that one,,,not even by the reports given to us by the coroner.

you're 100% right,,,

anyone can die from misuse of prescription drugs. and they do. but, that wasn't my point, my point was this, it takes a lot of MONEY to maintain the VERY LARGE DOSES that it takes to MAINTAIN HIS DAILY HABIT, all in the name of making his world better so that he doesn't get sick from the lack of opiates in his system. well, we weren't there holding a gun to this guy's head forcing him to run a pill through his nose, or spike a harpoon into his vein,,,,were we? no, we weren't. it was this guys decision to do that on his own, therefore his sickness (so called disability) is self inflicted and we the people shouldn't be forced to pay to help maintain his addiction! PERIOD!!!!

 's picture

and i quote

He’s 32; she’s 28. Both are on disability. They declined to give their names, saying some family members don’t know they go. Both said their addictions began with legitimate prescriptions for painkillers whose use spiraled out of control.

Her methadone is covered by MaineCare, as is often the case statewide. He pays $90 a week out of pocket. They spend $8 on gas and $4.50 on tolls every day.

why not give us your names and both on disability and mainecare pays a big chunk of that i would be ashamed of myself for allowing the state to support my drug habit
why on disability? too strung out i suppose your on section 8 housing food stamps etc...

Making wild assumptions based

Making wild assumptions based on prejudice and fear is unwise.

People who have been addicted for long periods and who then get into recovery are considered disabled according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Due in large part to prejudiced attitudes from folks like yourself, such people find it nearly impossible to get jobs even after significant time in recovery, as no one wants to hire a "former junkie". The vast majority of MMT patients in the USA pay for their own treatment costs IN FULL out of their own pockets.

Finally, the state is no more "supporting your drug habit" than they would be if they paid for insulin for diabetics. Long term opiate use cases changes in the brain chemistry of the user--changes that are often permanent, and prevent the patient's brain from making natural opiates called endorphins. Methadone replaces the endorphins without causing a high or euphoria in stable patients, enabling them to feel normal again and to go about a normal day taking care of work and family obligations instead of being mored in severe depression, obsessive cravings, physical exhaustion, anhedonia, and other symptoms of endorphin deficiency. Abstinence based rehabs and 12 step groups do not address the physical aspect of this disease--hence the enormous relapse rates for opioid addicts in these forms of treatment.

Ron Hubbard's picture


I personally know Joey Masse and he has most certainly not stopped using drugs.He was just in the police log a couple of weeks ago for domestic assualt.If they are gonna write a story on someone they should check their facts before printing....This goes to show how much a methadone clinic will help....Most of the people on methadone still use illegal drugs plus the methadone.I personally am a recovering alcholic and have contact with such people on a daily basis....

I don't know Joe Massey, but

I don't know Joe Massey, but I do know that methadone is the most effective method of treatment available for opioid addiction today, and that around 65% of those on methadone treatment are not using illicit drugs--a truly remarkable number when you consider that methadone ONLY treats opioid addiction and has no effect on addiction to cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamine, pot, etc. It is categorically false to state that "most of the people on methadone still use illegal drugs". Additionally, patients on an adequate blocking dose of methadone can no longer feel anything from other opiate drugs--it blocks any high they would normally get, so the motive to use opiates is gone. Methadone itself causes no high or euphoria whatsoever in stable patients, so the constant rants about how they are "getting high on our tax dollars" is another falsehood.

A junkie is a junkie is a junkie.....

.....and that's ALL they'll ever be! I think that if anyone were to follow this guy around they'd find out that the only reason why he's there is because he didn't have any more ways to get his groove on.

he had prolly run out of ways to get the quid he needed to score that heavy of an addiction. So he turns himself in for substance abuse, and because he had that heavy of an affliction, they give him huge doses,,,,ON A DAILY BASIS!! score one for him, HE'S WON!!! he now gets a daily fix, enough to kill you or i, that gets him ripped off of his ace, and the people paying for it, you and i, THE TAX PAYERS OF THE STATE OF MAINE!! the other upside to him getting his groove on with every other junkie getting their legal highs in the same place at 5:30 a.m.,,,,,he has lots more time because he no longer has to hunt to get high. he now has enough time to spend with his two kids,,,AWWWE WEEE, ISN'T THAT PRECIOUS!!

funny thing it is that the state of maine sees fit enough that junkies get their daily fixes, but the people that need that money to fix serious dental issues, are not afforded the same loving, caring attitudes from dhhs or mainecare!! why is it that they see fit to help these junkies, but they turn their backs on mainecare constituents that need dental care???

Jeff Kelley's picture


just what loser town needs a dope store never mind getting real jobs here lets make more dope addicts while were at it

 's picture

For one your statement was

For one your statement was very difficult to understand, you might want to add some punctuation in there. On to my actual comment, so by Lewiston getting it's first clinic it is a loser town, so what does that say about places like Bangor and Portland, who have 3 a piece?


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