Burlington methadone clinic seeks to expands services

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(Host) Vermont’s lone methadone treatment center wants to expand its services to accommodate a long waiting list of patients seeking treatment for heroin addiction.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The Burlington based clinic, known as the Chittenden Center, is run by the Howard Center for Human Services in collaboration with the University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care. Since shortly after it opened 10 months ago the clinic has operated at capacity, offering counseling services and methadone treatment to 100 patients. Another 100 or so are on a waiting list.

Now the clinic is moving to expand its treatment options and the number of patients it serves. The center has asked for federal permission to dispense a recently approved drug called Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is currently being prescribed by some Vermont doctors to treat opiate addiction. It’s especially effect for treatment of young addicts who haven’t built up a high tolerance to heroin.

The clinic also wants to offer take home doses of methadone. Currently the center is only licensed to dispense methadone on site. Allowing take home means a patient wouldn’t have to come to the clinic every day. Bob Bick of the Howard Center says some patients have dropped out of treatment because they have to drive as many as five hours daily to get their methadone.

(Bick) “As terrible as their life was on the street using heroin, it’s become dysfunctional for them to drive to Burlington seven days a week. So they request that they be detoxed from the methadone.”

(Zind) Bick says allowing take home methadone treatment will help keep those patients in the program. He says if the clinic is allowed to offer take home treatment, it will take steps to ensure the methadone isn’t abused. One of the concerns about a take home program is that the methadone could be sold and used illegally.

(Bick) “I think we would be looking for a greater frequency of urine testing, a greater degree of counseling than the federal standard mandates. I think what we would be proposing is a more rigorous program and more rigorous oversight.”

(Zind) The Chittenden Center will need federal and state approval for a take home methadone program. Doctor Paul Jarris is Vermont’s Health Commissioner.

(Jarris) “Let me say that that program has an excellent track record. I’ve not found anyone who doesn’t believe they’re doing an excellent job both in terms of the service they provide to their patients, but also in terms of the safety to our community. So I think they would be in an excellent position to introduce an application like that.”

(Zind) Jarris says the state is making progress in the effort to open a second methadone clinic. He says there are providers who are willing to open a clinic, but the state is still looking for a community open to hosting the facility.

(Jarris) “If we had a location or an interested community, that would speed this process dramatically. So we are in the process of looking for how can we make this more attractive for a community or how can we make this less unattractive for a community.”

(Zind) Jarris says he doesn’t expect there to be an announcement about a new clinic anytime soon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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