Burlington may open methadone clinic this summer

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(Host) If all goes according to plan, Vermont’s first methadone clinic will open later this summer. The Burlington facility is a partnership between the Howard Center for Human Services and Fletcher Allen Health Care.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, setting up a hospital-based methadone program has been a learning process.

(Zind) Supporters of methadone clinics say past efforts to locate facilities in other parts of the state have fallen through mainly for financial reasons. They say the amount of reimbursement the state has offered for treatment was too low. Because many heroin addicts don’t have money, how much the state will pay is an important factor in whether a clinic can afford to operate.

Last fall when the state quoted a figure of $135 per week per methadone patient, organizers dropped plans to start clinics in Brattleboro and Rutland. Now the Howard Center has negotiated a rate of $169 per week. Thomas Perras is Director of the Health Department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs. Perras says the rate is higher because the state now knows more about the costs of operating a clinic:

(Perras) “Averaging out the costs of the medication, which is relatively cheap, but the follow-up care and the case management care that these people need, the rate is a more fair rate for the operators of the programs.”

(Zind) The Howard Center plans to begin hiring staff for the clinic within the next week or two. Eventually, the facility will accommodate 100 patients at its UVM campus location.

Bob Bick of the Howard Center says he’s already receiving inquiries from people who want to be placed on the waiting list, even though the clinic isn’t taking names yet. Bick says he expect the available slots will be filled quickly:

(Bick) “All of the indicators that we have are that within a relatively short period of time, I would not be surprised that we are at program capacity. A waiting list is exactly that. It’s not a queue, it’s a waiting list, because there’s not going to be a huge amount of turnover.”

(Zind) Bick says there has been little local resistance to the Burlington clinic. A citizens group had waged a campaign against a proposed clinic in Rutland.

Thomas Perras says in addition to the state getting a handle on the costs of running a clinic, he feels the Burlington clinic will help serve as a model for future clinics. Perras says he expects plans will be made for other clinics once people see how the Burlington facility works, but he cautions state budget constrains will play a role in how much reimbursement money is available in the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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