Mobile methadone clinics clear hurdle

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(Host) The operators of two mobile drug addition treatment clinics in the Northeast Kingdom cleared an important regulatory hurdle last night. After many delays, the clinics are expected to begin offering methadone treatment next month.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) It’s been a long process for the San Francisco-based company that will operate the mobile facilities, and for the state, which had originally hoped the clinics would be running by last October.

But securing the necessary permits, finding appropriate sites in Newport and Saint Johnsbury and winning community support took time. Plans for the facilities also evolved from the original idea of a clinic on wheels that might stop in several locations daily to the current arrangement where the clinics are mobile, but they stay at one location.

Last night, one of the final obstacles to opening the clinic doors was cleared when the Saint Johnsbury Planning Commission approved a proposal to locate one of the mobile clinics at the Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital. The hospital site was chosen after the initial location for the clinic had won approval but was then challenged by a local businessman.

Operators have already received permission to locate the second mobile facility at a recycling center in Newport. Alan Aiken will manage the clinics. Aiken says last night’s planning commission vote, and an agreement to allow the clinic to use the original Saint Johnsbury site while the new hospital site gets the necessary state permits, means methadone treatment will become available in the Northeast Kingdom sometime in July. Until now, people seeking methadone treatment for heroin addiction have had to travel long distances, often out of state and sometimes on a daily basis.

Aiken says the new clinics will serve these people, as well as those who aren’t receiving treatment.

(Aiken) “I have been taking calls from people at my office who are asking about treatment. The numbers are probably 75-80 if you count people actively in treatment and people on a waiting list.”

(Zind) Aiken says the two clinics will have the capacity to treat one hundred and fifty people. Barbara Cimaglio is Director of the health department’ Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. Cimaglio says in the future, the state will look at establishing additional clinics in southern Vermont.

(Cimaglio) “Our goal, of course, is to go into other parts of the state where we need these services. However we want to make sure we’re on really solid ground before we get into these sites.”

(Zind) Until now methadone treatment in Vermont has only been available through a clinic in Burlington.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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