Senate considers expansion of state methadone program

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(Host) The Vermont Senate this week is expected to consider Legislation that’s designed to expand the number of people who can participate in the state’s methadone program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The bill, which is a top priority of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, tries to address a growing demand for methadone services in several ways.

Vermont’s current law requires that any methadone clinic be operated by a hospital. At this time, there’s only one clinic in Vermont. It’s located in Burlington and it has a waiting list of over 100 people.

Committee Chairman Jim Leddy (D-Chittenden County) says the new legislation will allow other health care organizations to sponsor methadone clinics – a move Leddy believes will result in the establishment of more facilities throughout the state. The law will also allow patients, who have a good track record for compliance with a methadone program, to take home a supply that will last them several days. That’s a practice that is prohibited at this time:

(Leddy) “For those people in the methadone programs who have demonstrated they are doing well – their life is going well – that I be on some graduated basis, rather than requiring people having to drive in many cases 200 or more miles a day, seven days a week to get medications. That doesn’t make any sense if they’re doing well.”

(Kinzel) Leddy says another key provision in the legislation will allow patients who are incarcerated for a brief period of time to continue their methadone treatment in jail. This practice is not allowed by the state at this time:

(Leddy) “If they’re going to jail for a very brief period of time and are in a treatment program outside, we absolutely believe their treatment should not be interrupted and that they should be able to continue to get that medication that is keeping them away from heroin. And we’re working with the administration to develop a plan to allow that.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave its unanimous support to the proposal. Leddy is hoping that the full Senate will strongly back the bill when it comes up for a vote.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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