By Susan Sharon
Bridgton, Maine, is the kind of place people like to go to get away. It’s got a small main street with shops and restaurants, a pair of scenic lakes, a ski resort and plenty of hiking trails.
But about 10 years ago, Bridgton, a town of just 5,000 residents, began showing signs of a serious drug problem.
“I had a lot of young people calling the agency to come into treatment,” says Catherine Bell, director of Crooked River Counseling, a substance abuse treatment center in Bridgton. “They were using needles. They were shooting heroin and it was like, really bombarded.”
Like so many states, Maine is facing a chronic shortage of treatment for opioid addiction. The problem is especially acute in rural parts of the state where there are no addiction doctors and the nearest methadone clinic is at least an hour’s drive away.
Bell says she thought that if treatment was going to be successful, patients would need the option of methadone or buprenorphine, commonly known as Suboxone, in addition to counseling. Both medications reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids. For a while, getting patients access to medication-assisted treatment seemed hopeless. And then Bell met Dr. Craig Smith, a physician at North Bridgton Family Practice.
Over lunch with Smith one day, Bell blurted out an idea. “I said, ‘I’ll tell you what. You prescribe. I’ll do the counseling for you.’ ”