AUGUSTA — Plans to help city residents suffering from substance use disorder include a proposal to equip rescue workers not just with Narcan to revive overdose victims, but also Suboxone to treat their withdrawal symptoms on-scene in hopes that it would help them seek treatment.

As the city’s federal grant-funded Project Recovery gets going with a goal of being able to offer residents seeking help with substance use disorder near-immediate access to treatment programs and other resources, licensed counselor Darren Ripley has been hired as project coordinator and given an office at the Augusta Fire Department’s headquarters at Hartford Station. From that site he and others hope to offer residents ready to treat their addictions a path to treatment and other resources, within hours of them seeking help.

But that’s only one way the fire and rescue department may be working with Project Recovery to help residents get help overcoming substance use disorder. They may also — in what would be the first such program in Maine, and one of the first in the country — carry Suboxone with them in city ambulances and use it to treat overdose victims’ withdrawal symptoms, after they have been revived with Narcan. That is if a proposal Deputy Fire Chief Steve Leach described to city councilors Thursday is approved by Maine EMS officials.

Leach said when someone overdoses on an opioid and is revived with Narcan, they immediately go into withdrawal from the drug. He’s proposing rescue workers, under the guidance of a doctor, be allowed to administer Suboxone to people revived from drug overdoses. The goal would be to ease withdrawal symptoms and provide time to help them find treatment for their substance use disorder. He said now people revived from an overdose can wait hours in an emergency room, in withdrawal and miserable, and some who leave before being treated may return to using drugs.

“That’s one of the most difficult times for somebody, right after they’ve been woken up with Narcan, they’re in complete withdrawal, that’s when they’re in one of their most difficult states,” Leach said. “And that’s where we might be able to get them to accept some level of treatment at that point, get them started on Suboxone and get our Project Recovery Team in there.”

Leach said he plans to meet with Maine EMS officials, who he said have grant funding targeted at addressing opioid use, to seek approval for Augusta to start such a program.


Leach said since January city rescue workers have given Narcan to 21 overdose victims in Augusta.

Ripley is currently seeking volunteer recovery coaches to provide help to people getting access to treatment. The project is not a treatment program but will network with treatment programs and refer residents to them.

The city, which was awarded $263,000 in federal congressionally directed spending funds last year to start Project Recovery, has contracted with Kennebec Behavioral Health to run the program. KBH provides mental health and substance use disorder services.

Pat McKenzie, administrator of outpatient and substance use disorder services for the agency, said the program will reach out to at least 48 people — she hopes for more than that — who want help fighting substance use disorder.

She said as a yearlong pilot, grant-funded program, they will need to track data closely, determine what works best and implement the program while also being able to show their outcomes. Showing outcomes is key to finding other grant funding and making the program sustainable long-term.

McKenzie acknowledged that drug detox beds are in short supply in Maine and said Kennebec Behavioral Health’s clinical programs currently have 800 people on a waiting list for outpatient treatment. But she said Ripley has, so far, been able to secure commitments from three different treatment program providers to take residents referred from Project Recovery.

Ripley is currently seeking recovery coaches to help the three who have volunteered already. The project is not yet offering services but officials expect to finalize their protocols and screening processes over the next two weeks.

Ripley noted people need a variety of things to successfully recover from substance use disorder, including support from family or others in their lives and safe housing. Project Recovery would work to help them find the supports they need.

“I’ve said to clients of mine, over the years, I’ll meet you where you’re at,” said Ripley, who has for many years worked in the recovery community in Augusta. “But I’m not going to leave you there. It’s not a status quo thing. They want to get better, they’re going to get better. We’re going to help them. All of us.”

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