PORTLAND, Maine — Every day in Maine, at least one person dies from a drug overdose.
Patients who survive an overdose often face a delay getting services, so Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland is doing something about it.
The hospital has started a new program called Rapid Access Treatment, which reaches people at a time when they need help the most.
The program allows doctors to give patients who have overdosed a medication called Suboxone, which eases withdrawal symptoms and initiates ongoing support to increase a patient's chance for recovery.
Dr. John Southall is head of the Emergency Department at Mercy Hospital.
"It's no secret to anyone, this is an epidemic," Southall said about the opioid crisis.
An epidemic that, for a while, they couldn't do much about.
"We could wake somebody up with Narcan, for example, but then there wasn't much to offer except a few social services, phone numbers," said Southall. "Unfortunately, many times [patients] went back out to seek more opiates to ease pain of withdrawal."
With Rapid Access Treatment, doctors have another option.
"We tend to focus on medication, and that's what we provide in the emergency department to help patients get in the right mindset," said Southall. "Then, we get them into ongoing therapy -- what they really need."
That's where Lester Gilkey comes in.
Gilkey knows all about the horrors of addiction. He struggled with a drug problem for more than 30 years and fought hard to become sober. Now, he's committed to helping others do the same.
When someone has overdosed, Gilkey is called to the emergency department to be there during a patient's long road to recovery.
"I let them know that I've done drugs for 30 years," said Gilkey. "I'm just like you -- I've just found a better way."
"I do this work because nobody gave up on me. Why should I give up on them?"
Sadie Knott, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Mercy, also plays a critical role in the treatment process.
"It gives me the ability to start working on any underlying mental health issues that might be driving some of the addiction," Knott said of the new program.
Knott values the availability of services and support at a time when it's needed most and proven to be the most effective.
"That's the biggest piece. We want to be able to offer services in that moment when someone is asking for help," said Knott. "That's the piece that has been missing."
Dr. Southall says this program gives them another option -- something they didn't have before.
"Now, we have something we can do, and it's as simple as that. It's a way to intervene and hopefully positively change somebody's life," said Southall.
In addition to the medical treatment provided at Mercy, patients also have access to sober housing, support groups, ongoing coaching, and workforce development.
Find out more about Maine's opioid crisis and available treatment options through Northern Light Health.