A regional effort to obtain millions of dollars in funding to combat the opioid epidemic is still ongoing, but organizers are confident they have a good chance to obtain the money.

“It’s a long march,” said Melissa Skahan, vice president of mission at Mercy Hospital in Portland. “But we’ve come a long way.”

The Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative, of which Mercy is a key part, is seeking a Pay for Success award. It’s unclear how much money the collaborative would receive, but the awards are typically between $5 million and $15 million over a four- to six-year period.

If successful, the program could surpass statewide efforts launched since the opioid crisis began. The state approved $7.2 million for various treatment programs over the past several months, but many health experts have criticized state government for doing too little to address the crisis. A separate bill to spend an additional $6.6 million per year for treatment failed this spring after it was opposed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Over the past year, Skahan and others in the collaborative have made numerous trips to Washington, including the White House, to meet with people involved in Pay for Success.

Skahan would not predict when the collaborative may find out whether Portland is receiving an award.


Pay for Success began in 2010 under then-President Barack Obama and was originally coordinated by the White House. It is now operated independently as a nonprofit after the Trump administration took over in January, and is mostly funded by private investors.

Pay for Success has launched dozens of projects across the country, focusing on a variety of issues such as recidivism, early childhood education and homelessness.

Now it’s focusing on the opioid epidemic. The crisis has worsened in Maine, with 376 drug overdose deaths in 2016, a record.

The Greater Portland collaborative includes health systems, law enforcement, housing groups, nonprofits, the treatment community, police and jail officials, and others, and the members have been working together for more than 18 months.

Unlike traditional government programs, which in many cases measure how many people are served, Pay for Success is focused on measuring how effective the program is in alleviating problems, said Lynn Overmann, a vice president at the Arnold Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit. Once a program has demonstrated through scientifically measured outcomes that it works, it can then be replicated across the country.

Overmann, who was in Portland in early August to help jump-start the effort, said the Arnold Foundation serves as a catalyst to help those seeking funds.


“Portland is pretty far advanced,” Overmann said. “They have all the right stakeholders sitting at the table together, and in many ways that’s the hardest part.”

She said a crucial part of the effort is to work on connecting computer networks across nonprofits and government so that everyone in the collaborative has technology that works together.

That way, for instance, the local hospital would be flagged by its computer system if a person who was in the hospital for a drug overdose spent the night in jail for a petty crime, or had been in a treatment program a month ago. Similarly, the police would be flagged if they arrested someone who had recently been in the hospital for a drug overdose.

That knowledge, Overmann said, can help connect people to resources that they need, such as housing and treatment.

It can also help officials identify trends in the population and determine more efficient and better ways to help. Those who receive help will be tracked to see what happens to them.

“We will be able to tell what is working and what is not,” Overmann said.


Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said he’s optimistic that the collaborative will eventually receive the funding, which is needed to address the public health crisis. He said many crimes are connected to the opioid epidemic, and that “people are just doing what they can to survive their disease.”

“We’re the tip of the spear,” Sauschuck said. “We are seeing people on their worst days.”

He said an educated guess is that about 75 percent of the people that police come into contact with have a substance use disorder or mental illness.

Michael Tarpinian, president and CEO of the Opportunity Alliance, a Portland nonprofit that operates mental and behavioral health and other programs, said he believes Pay for Success will work. The Opportunity Alliance is part of the collaborative.

“This is going to take a tremendous amount of coordination and energy, but we can do it,” he said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com Twitter: joelawlorph

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