PORTLAND — Services for treating opioid addiction will soon be available at the India Street Public Health Center.
Grace Street Recovery Services, a Lewiston-based, for-profit treatment center, has sublet space at 103 India St., where the city now leases space for a needle exchange and testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. The building is also home to the Portland Community Free Clinic.
“We are moving from Auburn Street, where is it is not very accessible,” Grace Street Chief Operating Officer Tim Cheney said March 16. “The whole theory behind it is, meet people where they are instead of waiting for them to be motivated enough to come seek help.”
Grace Street offers outpatient medical services for opioid users, specifically suboxone and vivitrol, in Lewiston and Sanford. Grace Street also has a residential care center in Lewiston, and provideds counseling and after-care services.
Suboxone and vivitrol each help alleviate withdrawals and cravings from opioid addiction. Vivitrol can be administered in monthly doses.
Cheney expects Grace Street to move from 72 Auburn St. to India Street by the second week of May.
“The people who come in and use the exchange have the ability to step over the line and come into treatment,” Cheney said. “If they continue to use, we don’t punish them.”
From a practical standpoint, Oliver Bradeen, the liaison for the city’s Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program, welcomed the move.
“I’m just excited they are more accessible,” Bradeen said Tuesday.
For more than a year, Bradeen has reached out to overdose victims to provide whatever assistance he can. Getting them to treatment is not a guarantee, but even establishing relationships can help people move toward active recovery.
In September, the city was awarded a U.S. Department of Justice grant to fund Bradeen’s position and provide financial assistance for opioid users who are unable to get treatment for lack of health insurance.
Bradeen said the estimated $68,000 in aid has made his work easier.
“I’m talking to Grace Street and they are making things happen,” he said, adding Hannaford Bros. has also provided the medications.
In a March 15 press release, City Manager Jon Jennings said Grace Street will work with the other clinics in the building while leasing 1,600 square feet, adding he will ask for Council support “to fund the Needle Exchange and STD Clinic as we did last year” in the budget he will present April 5.
The city funds staffing and space for the needle exchange and STD clinic; it is prevented by federal law from paying for the needles that are exchanged.
Cheney has been active in his recovery from heroin use for more than four decades, including methadone treatment, before his recovery by abstinence. He said some kind of medically assisted treatment is needed in the initial stages of recovery because 93 percent of addicts who try to recover solely by abstaining from drugs relapse within the first 90 days.
While the ultimate goal may be recovering through abstinence, Cheney said there are a lot of variables that can occur before it becomes a reality.
“I think there are many paths to recovery and many paths in recovery,” he said. “We teach people how to rewrite the story of their life.”
Cheney said a goal is to change the outlook on addiction so it is seen from the public health perspective.
“Once we change the perspective, we take it out of the moralistic purview,” he said.
Grace Street Recovery Services is expected to move into the India Street Health Center in Portland in early May to provide medically assisted recovery treatments for opioid users.