AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously approved a $7.5 million supplemental spending package on Thursday that includes funds to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.

The bill removes time limits for Medicaid patients being treated for substance use disorders with medications like Methadone and Suboxone. The measure would also require Medicaid to cover the costs for the overdose antidote Naloxone regardless of how long a patient may have been in treatment.

The change represents a new state policy to increase the focus on medication-assisted treatment as Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, follows through on her campaign promise to do more to tackle the state’s opioid overdose crisis. Drug overdoses claimed 282 Maine lives in the first nine months of 2018.

The budget committee removed provisions in the supplemental budget that would have established a pre-release facility in Washington County for the Maine Department of Corrections. Committee members said those provisions will move forward in separate legislation.

Lawmakers approved funding for the facility in 2016, but it has yet to be built. It would replace the Downeast Correctional Facility, which former Republican Gov. Paul LePage used his executive authority to abruptly close in the early hours of Feb. 8, 2018. The pre-release center would house Department of Corrections inmates who would be confined to the facility but allowed to work outside as they prepare to transition back into society.

The committee vote on the supplemental budget is the first fiscal victory for Mills and it came Thursday with little debate or discussion. Democrats and Republicans on the panel worked through several relatively minor items and changes that will keep the state’s current two-year budget in balance as required by the state’s constitution.

The supplemental budget also includes $1 million in funding for the state to celebrate Maine’s 200th anniversary in 2020 – another shift from LePage, who signed off on only $75,000 in state spending for the celebration.

The budget, which will face additional votes in both the House and the Senate in the weeks ahead, also includes $350,000 to hire experts for the Office of the Public Advocate and $2.5 million to meet Maine’s required share of estimated disaster recovery costs. That includes $1.6 million for the October 2017 windstorm and $900,000 for coastal flooding in York County in March 2018. The funding is paired with federal disaster relief funds.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chairman of the committee, said he was pleased with Thursday’s vote but cautioned that lawmakers still have much work to do on the next two-year budget.

“The problems we need to solve are bigger than this supplemental budget,” Gattine said in a prepared statement, “but I am heartened that we are moving forward with a unanimous vote from this committee. Gov. Mills provided an excellent framework that achieved bipartisan support. However, we still have a long road ahead.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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