A community health clinic in Grand Marais is providing medical treatment for patients with opioid disorders.

Since March, the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic has provided a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with buprenorphine, one of three forms of medical treatment for opioid addictions. An opioid itself, buprenorphine can be prescribed by any physician who has obtained a federal government waiver to do so.

Buprenorphine blocks opioid cravings in the long term, according to a news release from the clinic.

Dr Catherine Hansen, who had experience with MAT during her residency, helped set up the program at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, according to the news release. Another Sawtooth physician, Dr. Kurt Farchmin, also trained in buprenorphine therapy.

Availability of the treatment option means patients don’t have to drive miles to get help for opioid use disorders, said Rita Plourde, who is retiring as CEO of the clinic after 38 years of service.

The program already has made a difference, said Katherine Surbaugh, the clinic nurse manager who will take over as CEO later this month.

"The folks who need it, a lot of them are patients who have already been on buprenorphine and have been driving to Duluth or even the Cities for it," Surbaugh said. "This has been a boon to those patients."

“I have been the main RN working with the MAT program and its development and have seen several success stories within the program,” said Surbaugh, who previously served as clinical nurse manager. “It is some of the most gratifying work we do in the clinic.”

Another form of medication-assisted treatment, methadone, still is offered regionally only at the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Duluth, more than 100 miles from Grand Marais.

The third form, naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol), is a non-opioid that physicians can prescribe without obtaining a government waiver. But Colin Planalp, a senior research fellow at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, told the News Tribune in a story published Sunday that many doctors, especially in rural areas, don’t feel they have adequate training to prescribe either buprenorphine or naltrexone.