PORTLAND (AP) – New methadone clinics slated to open this winter in Rockland, Bangor and Calais would ease the commutes that an estimated 2,000 opiate addicts make each day or week to obtain treatment.

But the use of the synthetic heroin substitute has sparked controversy and opposition to the proposed clinics, particularly in Rockland. Nearly two dozen people demonstrated Saturday near that city’s downtown district as part of an effort to block the project.

Methadone is dispensed to addicts to curb their craving for heroin, Oxycontin or other opium-based drugs. Health officials say it’s needed because of a surge in the number of Mainers seeking treatment for their addiction.

Maine has allowed methadone maintenance since 1994, with clinics currently in operation in South Portland, Westbrook, Waterville and Bangor.

Over the past decade, the number of Mainers seeking treatment for addiction to opiates has increased from 495 to 3,185, according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

Among them is Kelli Kinney of Spruce Head, who is seeking to recover from an addiction to painkillers. For months, she had to awaken daily at 3:30 a.m., pick up a baby sitter for her three children and drive 90 minutes to the nearest clinic before heading home to get her two oldest kids ready for school.

“The day I walked through the clinic door I had two options. Methadone was going to work, or I was going to shoot myself,” said Kinney, who after countless daily trips now can bring home a 13-day supply.

The new clinics would enable hundreds more people to have access to methadone while easing the long commutes of many others. But the question of whether the state should increase the availability of an addictive drug to treat drug addiction remains a source of controversy.

Opponents fear an increase in methadone treatment will lead to abuse of the drug, more overdose deaths, and hundreds more addictions.

“We don’t believe it is treatment. Many treatment providers feel this is placating the drug addict,” said Angela Pejouhy of Waldoboro, a nurse whose 19-year-old daughter Evy – who was not an opiate addict – died in January after taking methadone to get high.

Pejouhy was among the protesters who gathered with signs reading “Methadone Didn’t Help My Mom” and “Trading One Addiction For Another Isn’t the Answer.”

A proposed ordinance change to keep the clinic from setting up in downtown Rockland will be up for second reading this week. Opponents of the clinic acknowledge that federal law prevents them from blocking it from Rockland, but they plan to put pressure on the owners and to take an active role in where the clinic would go.

The for-profit clinics slated to open in Calais and Bangor have met less resistance. The Bangor clinic, when it opens in a strip mall early next year, will become the city’s second. In Calais, the clinic, which is expected to open in the coming weeks, had the support in a community searching for an answer to its growing problem of opiate abuse.

“People know there is a problem here. It has affected almost everyone personally,” said Carrie Perkins-McDonald, program manager for the Calais clinic.

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