Redmond: Treating Addiction

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(Host) Last week the Shumlin administration announced a plan to create
five opiate treatment centers throughout the state. Writer, journalist
and commentator Marybeth Redmond is hopeful that the long-term impact of
an addictions treatment system for Vermont will be fewer offenders
returning to prison.

(Redmond) I witness revolving-door
incarceration first-hand as some of the women prisoners I facilitate a
writing circle with each week cycle back to jail.

Recently, one
long-term writer returned to our group just nine weeks after we
celebrated her departure from Chittenden Correctional Facility. This
shy, blue-eyed 20-something had been released to a transitional housing
facility. But, despite the substance-free environment in that residence,
she began using prescription meds again and was re-incarcerated after
several "dirty UAs." That’s code for a urine analysis indicating drug
use, a violation of her probation.

"How are you doing?" I asked
her quietly at the end of the session. "I’m really bummed," she said. "I
was clean for a couple of weeks then started up again. It was
everywhere, all around me," she said of the neighborhood beyond her
doors, with dealers dishing out opiates like OxyContin. "I’m an addict,
you know" she reminded me.

About half of incarcerated Vermonters
return to prison eventually. That figure mirrors recidivism rates
nationwide. The vast majority of this population are low-level offenders
re-incarcerated because of violations such as illegal drug use. Many of
their initial crimes occurred while high on drugs, and while that
doesn’t excuse behavior that’s harmed persons or property, imprisoning
low-level offenders with long track-records of substance abuse is not an
effective strategy for reducing crime or rehabilitating lives.

why the Administration’s plan to create five addiction treatment
centers around the state is hopeful news. Shockingly, Vermont’s
per-capita ranking for people seeking help for prescription opiate
addiction is the second worst in the country.

Each proposed
treatment center, or "hub and spoke" facility as they are being called,
would provide wrap-around medical, mental health, family, and substance
abuse services for those ravaged by addictions. These centers would also
add distribution points for methadone and buprenorphine-replacement
therapies used to treat opiate addiction. Hundreds of Vermonters are
currently on wait lists for access to these medications.

state has long been in need of an integrated system for addictions
treatment, where doctors, clinicians, caseworkers and databases are all
coordinating. Vermonters need a model of care that treats
chemical-dependency as a chronic disease like diabetes or depression,
where daily medication and relapse-management are the norm not the

As anyone knows who’s watched a loved one start using
again, or has relapsed themselves, it’s an experience of
"brought-to-your-knees" helplessness. And many of the worst addicts
admit the deepest shame at their inability ‘to willpower’ themselves

…Like my writer-friend. She’s still incarcerated. She
waits for another sober residence to materialize. I stay hopeful that
the comprehensive, long-term addiction care she needs will become a
reality soon, and her prison writing days will eventually be a distant

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