Brattleboro approves drug addiction treatment facility

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(Host) Operators of a drug addiction treatment facility have received a go-ahead from local officials in Brattleboro.

The new treatment center will bring to four the number of outpatient facilities dispensing methadone for heroin addiction in Vermont.

Even so, with clinics providing the drug to about 400 people, the services don’t meet the demand.

VPR’s Steve Zind has the story.

(Zind) Five years ago, the state had virtually no facilities dispensing methadone for the treatment of heroin addiction. Today there are clinics in Saint Johnsbury, Newport and Burlington. The Brattleboro facility is expected to open in the next month. The clinic will be operated by a company which also owns treatment centers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

That addition of a new treatment facility still won’t be enough to serve those who want help getting off heroin says Barbara Cimaglio who heads the health department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Division.

(Cimaglio) “We have a waiting list at the Chittenden Center where they’re serving approximately two hundred people in Burlington. Both the units in Saint Johnsbury and Newport are at the funded capacity.”

(Zind) Together, the Saint Johnsbury and Newport clinics serve about 150 people, some of whom once had to travel to Massachusetts or New Hampshire to receive treatment.

Because patients have to visit a clinic every day for methadone, the long drive made it difficult for them to hold down jobs and resume normal lives.

Cimaglio says the long trips to receive methadone were also expensive for the state, which pays both treatment and transportation costs for eligible patients.

Cimaglio says the in-state treatment facilities are saving a lot of money.

(Cimaglio) “Let’s just take the Northeast Kingdom, for example. We were spending about $450,000 just in transportation, supporting those people to go to clinics out of state. We have not turned that money into treatment dollars. So that is what’s supporting those two sites in the Northeast Kingdom. So, that’s a huge savings.”

(Zind) Cimaglio says the state is working to add treatment centers in central and southwestern Vermont.

In the past, communities have raised concerns about hosting a methadone facility.

People are worried about crime and public safety.

Those concerns came up in Saint Johnsbury when a mobile treatment center was first proposed there, but after more than a year in operation, Town Manager Mike Welch has no complaints.

(Welch) “I think overall the experience in Saint Johnsbury has been positive. There were concerns about safety issues and traffic and whether or not there would be security problems and we have seen no problems.”

(Zind) Welch says Saint Johnsbury officials would like to the mobile unit travel to other area towns, instead of providing treatment from only in Saint Johnsbury.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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