Martha’s Vineyard Community Services will open a new clinic on May 22 to dispense a drug that has helped many people escape the grip of addiction to heroin and other opioids.

The new clinic, located in a refurbished building on the Community Services campus in Oak Bluffs, will dispense the drug sold under the brand name Suboxone.

Suboxone is a combination of the generic drug nalaxone (the same drug in Narcan, used to revive overdose victims) and the synthetic opioid buprenorphine. While Suboxone is controversial in some quarters because it can be subject to abuse, people who use the drug in combination with psychotherapy are able to function well and lead normal lives.

“It’s a combination of a blocker and a narcotic,” said nurse practitioner Janet Constantino, who is licensed to prescribe the drug as part of the Community Services intervention center. “It blocks the receptors but it also prevents people from going into withdrawal. Not everyone, but some people get on this medication to give them some time to get their life together. Some people stay on it for a few months, some people stay on it for a few years,” she said.

Suboxone has been available on Martha’s Vineyard for several years, but doctors who prescribed it did not accept insurance reimbursement.

The clinic at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services will accept insurance, making the drug more widely available on the Island.

“We feel it’s really important that we offer Suboxone out of our clinic because right now, while it’s available on the Island, people can’t use their insurance cards for it,” said Julie Fay, executive director of Community Services, in an interview this week. “This enables people who are insured, through MassHealth or through whatever to receive Suboxone, covered by insurance. We feel very much that because it is part of the road to recovery, we need to be making it available.”

Ms. Constantino said most people who go on Suboxone have to go to a private doctor and pay out of pocket for it. “We really felt that if this was a medication that was going to help people with addiction it should be available to everyone, not just someone who is able to pay out of pocket for it.”

Ms. Fay said the regulatory hurdles involved in establishing the clinic were formidable, requiring licenses from both the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and the Department of Public Health.

“As with anything that’s third party reimbursable, the regulatory hoops you have to go through are tremendous,” she said. “Putting it together here [on the Island] is always more difficult, because of the scale issues.”

Since the drug has the potential for abuse, the clinic will follow protocols that heavily monitor its use.

“The street value of Suboxone is pretty high,” Ms. Fay said. “We have to make sure we are setting up a program where we are not risking the prescriptions that are being let out there, hit the streets. We do that through different security mechanisms.”

Ms. Constantino said protocols will include random drug testing, prescriptions for limited amounts of the drug, and close medical monitoring of the doses taken.

The protocols surrounding dispensing the drug recognize that addiction is complicated and often has more than one component. Medical studies show it is most effective when coupled with counseling.

“Everyone that comes into our program also has to get individual or group therapy,” Ms. Constantino said. “You should learn skills to deal with your addiction, and coping skills. It shouldn’t just be a medication, it should be getting to the root of the problem. If they have an anxiety disorder, or depression, maybe that’s the reason they’re using in the first place, to self medicate. There always should be a therapy component to the medication.”

According to statistics compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Dukes County ranked among the highest counties in the state for the rate of fatal opioid overdoses for its population from 2016 to 2018. DPH recorded a total of 15 opioid overdose deaths during that three-year period.

According to Community Services, from November 2016 to December 2017, 16 Vineyard residents were transported off-Island for emergency detoxification related to opioid use.

A working coalition of medical professionals, law enforcement officials, and members of the recovery community, facilitated by Community Services, meets regularly as part of an Islandwide effort to combat the opioid epidemic. Ms. Fay credited the coalition with providing a sense of urgency to establish a Suboxone clinic.

“The urgency was certainly spurred on by the coalition, but it’s something that Janet has wanted to do, and that the community here has wanted to do for awhile,” Ms. Fay said. “We just didn’t have the bandwidth to get it up and running. We’re ready to move now that we have this separate space to house it in.”

She also conceded that the coalition was not unanimous in its views about the use of Suboxone as a medically assisted treatment. Twelve-step programs and other therapies advocate total abstinence from narcotics.

“I wouldn’t call it resistance,” Ms. Fay said. “I would say people voiced their view. People in the recovery community have very different views on it. We have to respect all those views, and we do.”