New methadone treatment center proposed in Berlin

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(Host) A California company wants to launch a new methadone treatment center in Berlin.

Officials say the clinic will serve addicts in central Vermont who now have to drive to Burlington or to mobile sites in the Northeast Kingdom.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) BAART Behavioral Health Services of San Francisco already operates two mobile methadone services in St. Johnsbury and Newport.

The new facility is planned for an old truck stop in Berlin, about halfway between Barre and Montpelier.

Company vice president Stephen Rosen said that the mobile services in the Northeast Kingdome were designed in part to address NIMBY concerns – the not-in-my-back yard opposition from neighbors.

But Rosen told the state’s Public Oversight Commission that a fixed-based clinic is cheaper to run, and better for patients.

(Rosen) "What happens when you have a mobile program is that you have segregated services. You have dispensing over here, and you have counseling over here. And it’s not really customer friendly. It’s always best practice to be able to come to a clinic. Just think of a medical clinic, you don’t want to go to another place to get your medication".

(Dillon) Berlin generally supports the clinic proposal. Pat MacDonald is a Republican state representative from town and also serves on the local selectboard.

(MacDonald) "We’re very pleased that it is a fixed site. I think that for us it’s a lot better conceptually because it is fixed, it’s on Granger Road. It’s near the hospital. There were some concerns with a mobile unit, if the mobile unit couldn’t make it, if it broke down. There were just a lot of issues for us. And I think everybody feels much more comfortable with a fixed site".

(Dillon) Methadone is a synthetic narcotic that helps opiate addicts deal with craving and withdrawal.  A person usually gets a dose in the morning and is able to work during the day

Vermont has seen an epidemic of heroin abuse in recent years. But addiction to prescription opiate drugs is also increasing.

For example, the St. Johnsbury mobile methadone service reported nine new cases of people addicted to prescription drugs from April to June. None identified heroin as their primary drug problem.

In Newport, eight of the new admissions were for prescription drugs, while two were for people addicted to heroin.

Alan Aiken is clinical director for BAART in Vermont. He says a facility in central Vermont should help relieve pressure on other treatment centers.

(Aiken) "The first priority would be to get the people that are living in the central Vermont area that are currently traveling to Burlington and West Lebanon or other places, to bring them into the Berlin area, so they can get those services in their own community."

(Dillon) Right now, there’s more demand for treatment than there is money to pay for it.

The BAART clinic in Berlin has funding to treat 49 patients a year. But officials say there’s a need to treat about twice as many.

The Public Oversight Commission is expected to rule on the clinic’s application soon.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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