Maine cancels funding for drug abuse treatment groups

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AUGUSTA — The Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs has been notified its contract with the state, which has stood for more than 13 years, will be canceled Dec. 31.

Ruth Blauer, the association’s executive director, said cancellation of the $573,000 contract will essentially eliminate the services provided by her program and two others it oversees: the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse, which runs education programs to steer people away from drug addiction, and the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, which helps people avoid relapses after they have quit using drugs.

The canceled contract will delete about 90 percent of the funding for Blauer’s position, as well as the directors and support staffs for Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse and Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery.

“I’m running as fast as I can to find funding,” Blauer said. “We are all committed to keeping these programs whole and are working toward funding them in one way or another, but it’s not easy.”

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David Sorensen, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Friday the contracts were canceled because the services are no longer needed.

“The department enters into and concludes contracts with providers on a regular basis and those decisions are based on the needs of the people we service, the performance of the providers and the department’s needs,” Sorensen said. “With [Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs], there were five positions in the provider contract and we brought three of them in-house. We are no longer in need of the services of the other two.”

Another department spokesman said Friday that the three state positions “are currently being developed.” At issue is one out of nine contracts the state holds with MASAP.

“During its annual review of the agreement, the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services determined that it can meet its needs more efficiently with three limited-time state positions, which are currently being developed,” read a statement from the department.

In addition to providing services directly to people receiving treatment for substance abuse, Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs is the fiscal agent and provides human resources services for several staff members who report to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, a unit of DHHS.

Blauer said DHHS has created its own substance abuse prevention team but that there is no organization other than the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery working with recovering addicts.

“I can see their argument in the prevention piece but there’s no way they can say that [Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery] is redundant,” Blauer said. “There no function like that anywhere at the state level… I keep asking the question ‘why?’ but I’m not getting reasons other than ‘we no longer require your services.’”

Questions from the Bangor Daily News to DHHS on Friday about how the state has taken over some of the services were not immediately answered.

Blauer said her organization negotiated the contract with DHHS this past spring and the contract was to be effective for the 2016 fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2016. The state never signed the contract and notified Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs July 13 the contract would be cut.

Darren Ripley, coordinator of the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, said the contract cancellation will eliminate funding for his job. Also in jeopardy of losing their jobs are Raya Kouletsis, who coordinates the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse, and some assistants.

“We’re the only entity that does this kind of work in the state, and we do it at no cost [to the recovering addicts],” Ripley said. “I’ll have to look for something else to pay my personal mortgage, but I will hopefully be able to keep MAAR going, or at least keep the name going in some minor way… I work 80 or 90 hours a week. I take phone calls from people who need help until 10:30 at night. I’m dedicated to this program.”

Ripley said recovery services — such as helping former addicts find jobs, housing and transportation — are crucial to efforts to lower addiction rates and the Maine Office of Substance Abuse knows it.

“If the Office of Substance Abuse has a way to take care of this, I’m wondering why a week and a half ago they forwarded an email to me from the Westbrook Police Department,” Ripley said.

Blauer said claims by the state that there’s redundancy don’t make sense in the context of an overall shortage of prevention and recovery resources in Maine. She said she sees the contract cancellation as another example of the LePage administration’s efforts to pour more resources into law enforcement in the effort to combat a burgeoning drug abuse problem. Gov. Paul LePage will host a drug abuse prevention summit Aug. 26.

“This summit went from a comprehensive discussion about fighting substance abuse to now being focused on interdiction,” Blauer said. “There needs to be treatment and recovery support. We see this as the No. 1 public health program in the whole state. There’s big dissonance here. It’s just very puzzling.”

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