Franklin Countys First News

Group-based opiate treatment office opening in Farmington

Left to right is Sarah Parnell, senior operations specialist; Brandi Chase, office coordinator; Marilyn Boucher, clinical supervisor; and Darren Ripley, counselor.

FARMINGTON - A group-based treatment program for opiate dependence will open its doors on Pleasant Street in the coming weeks, seeking to address one the most significant issues facing western Maine.

Groups: Recover Together, a medication assisted treatment program that began in New Hampshire, will be opening its ninth branch in Maine. The program uses a combination of weekly group counseling sessions and regulated medication over an 18- to 24-month period to help people addicted to any opiate, ranging from heroin to prescription medication. According to Sarah Parnell, the manager of the program throughout the state, the program's six-month retention rate is higher than 50 percent; the national average for outpatient therapy relating to opiate addiction is roughly 40 percent.

One of the things that helps Groups members, as compared to national averages, is that it's entirely voluntary. People participating in the program want to get better, Parnell said.

"Research shows that with solid counseling every week and with supervised medication, people can have good success in a two-year period," Parnell said.

The group counseling sessions are an hour in length and meet once a week with no more than 10 people per counselor, in accordance with state regulations. According to Marilyn Boucher, the clinical supervisor in Farmington, the group session consists of both discussions on week-to-week progress, as well as coping skills, relapse prevention and living skills. A portion of each session is given over to an educational piece, Boucher said, focusing on skills such as financial planning or resume building.

The group sessions are mandatory and if one is missed, the member would have to attend a makeup session.

Groups doesn't use shame-based therapy, and Boucher said that the company went out of its way to make members feel welcome. The group therapy room is painted in bright colors with rocking chairs, for example.

"We are not in any way shame-based," Parnell said. "We see people that want to get better and we want to be a part of that."

Groups uses prescribed doses of suboxone, a drug used to treat those addicted to narcotic pain relievers, on a weekly basis. After the first year to 18 months, a physician begins working to reduce the member's doses over roughly a six-month period until they no longer need to receive treatment.

While treatment has to be voluntary, Parnell said that Groups would be reaching out to local probation officers, medical providers like primary care physicians and hospitals and law enforcement agencies to let them know about then option. Many people will hear about the program from loved ones, Boucher said - "word of mouth is huge" - or call the company's hotline at (800) 683-8313.

The program costs $65 per week, which includes the group session, the medication and some of the supporting elements, such as the physician that sits in on one meeting every 30 days. While Groups used to be strictly self-pay, it now accepts some private insurances as well as MaineCare through the Opiate Health Home Program. That state program also mandates that members address a secondary medical issue, which can vary from tobacco addiction to diabetes to mental health. Groups uses a nurse care manager for that purpose, as well as linking up with other agencies in the case of a mental health issue.

Roughly half to two-thirds of Groups' members became dependent upon opiates through a legally-prescribed pain medication, Parnell noted; common reasons include work-related injuries, like construction workers, or from a car accident. The popularity of the program has exploded over the past three years, going from 70 members in two offices to more than 900 members in nine offices across the state. Farmington is the ninth; a tenth office will open in Houlton at the end of the summer.

Parnell, who has worked at Groups over the entire course of the expansion period, said that the rapid growth was both exciting, from a more-people-seeking-help perspective, but also sad in terms of the magnitude of the state's opiate dependence issues.

The Farmington office will open in the next couple of weeks. Hours are to be determined; Boucher said that each office tends to develop its own set of operating hours and "personality." For example, the Augusta office began seeing a large number of working adults, and therefore has nighttime office hours. Farmington's office will be open four to five days a week and roughly 40 hours, however.

A grand opening event will be held on June 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Groups: Recover Together office at 140 Pleasant Street. Dr. Dorothy Thayer, a family medicine doctor, will present information about the local opioid addiction epidemic.

The Groups hotline is (800)683-8313.

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13 Responses »

  1. Sound like what we need here in town. Best of luck and hope that it works just as well as in your other offices. The coast looks very reasonable and some of the people stuck on that crap that want to get off it, this looks like a great thing. Too many lives suffer from this awful addiction and anything that can help is a good thing. Again best of luck and welcome to town.

  2. Just wondering, does the legal medication actually help or does it just make the patient addicted to a new medication?

  3. Such a shame we have to go down this road

  4. I believe Suboxone is intended to be a tapered medication where as Methadone is simply a replacement.

  5. @Townie, the article states, "After the first year to 18 months, a physician begins working to reduce the member's doses over roughly a six-month period until they no longer need to receive treatment."

  6. Methadone is called a to harm reduction treatment, and Suboxone is DRT drug replacement therapy, methadone is a life time drug, the state pays for so many people mileade reimbursement, and they pay for there treatment for years and years and years, you got the methadone clinic in Waterville you'll meet people that been there for 15_20 years!!!! State funded every bit of it!!!! Methadone is for people that are still using heroin and other drugs it would keep them from overdosing if methadone was in their system. The system is messed up they don't ever want you to leave the clinic it's money for them!!!!they don't care about your recovery they care about $$$$$

  7. The key word is voluntary......addicts aren't usually willing to take the step(s) to get clean!! However if Groups can help even one person I would consider that a success!!

  8. Just saying,

    A 50% retention rate after six months doesn’t seem “voluntary”. Sad that that’s considered successful...

  9. The corrupt pharmaceutical companies and doctors should be forced to foot the bill.

    Elected officials in Franklin County should be focusing efforts on bringing infrastructure and jobs to rural Maine.

  10. Farmington resident: My point was if even one person can be helped that is a good thing.....Sorry you disagree....that is sad!!

  11. If the opinion you're reading in a Bulldog thread doesn't obey the basic rules of grammar, consider that the person writing it might not have a clue what they're talking about.

  12. $65 a week? Who pays?
    Does this mean we'll have to support another non-profit at the town level?

  13. Just saying,
    It’s nice of you to think that helping one person is good, unfortunately it just isn’t a good use of resources. I have known numerous people who have come off of opiates themselves. When people want to stop, they will. Until then, giving them a suboxone prescription only makes it easier for them to continue using. I hope this program will follow through with what they say it will do - actually wean people off.