PCHC working to make substance use disorder services more easily accessible

Published: Aug. 14, 2023 at 5:14 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Penobscot Community Health Care wants to make treatment available for more Mainers with substance use disorder.

That’s what a new initiative called Project Hope is all about.

For the past four years, PCHC has offered services for opioid use disorder at the Bridge Clinic on Union Street.

Patients are given low-barrier access to treatment, meaning same-day appointments and harm reduction strategies, rather than an all-or-nothing approach to getting “clean.”

“Old-school addiction care all we said you got to, you know, ‘get clean, stop using,’ but we know from the science now that even reduction of use is a lifesaving measure. What a low barrier model has taught us is that if you impose absolute cessation at the out front, somebody may say, ‘It’s not for me,’ and never walk in that door the first time, and what we want is just that first step across the threshold,” said Rachel Solotaroff, MD, executive clinical director, substance use disorder services, PCHC.

After four years, the model of treatment used at the Bridge Clinic will be spreading throughout the area. The staff who worked there will be taking their expertise to a number of other locations including across the bridge at the Brewer Medical Center.

“Sometimes even the difference between going to Bangor versus going to Brewer can make a difference. So, if you can say, ‘We found a site for you, a place you can go and there’s availability this afternoon,’ that might be the moment that then allows someone to make that change,” Solotaroff said.

PCHC hopes this expanded access will break down barriers to care for Mainers who need help.

Bridge Clinic saw about 400 in the past year. Solotaroff estimates this move will allow for at least a 10% increase in the first year.

And it’s not just opioid use disorder treatments patients receive as part of this plan. They can get access to preventatives measures, like breast cancer screening, or other tests and treatments, such as for hepatitis C and high blood pressure.

“I really light up when I think about the idea of somebody who woke up hopeless that morning and said, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ but then a case manager, a street outreach worker, a friend gave that person a phone number, and they call that phone number. And, by that afternoon, they got an appointment, and all of a sudden, a life that they thought was telescoping down is opening up to a whole new horizon,” said Solotaroff.

Low-barrier services will be discontinued at the Bridge Clinic as of this fall. However, PCHC expects to roll out Project Hope at two other Bangor locations in September. Brewer, Belfast, and hopefully Old Town will offer these services fully in the following months.