• Mobile methadone clinic could go statewide
     | March 29,2005

    An opiate addiction treatment program initiated in the Northeast Kingdom by Vermont Behavioral Health Services may eventually serve addicts in Bennington, Rutland and Brattleboro, without needing state approval.

    A public oversight committee last week recommended approval without conditions for the state's first mobile methadone clinic based in St. Johnsbury and Newport, said Paulette Thabault, deputy commissioner for the Healthcare Administration – the state division that oversees the so-called "certificate of need" application process. The committee's recommendation now goes for approval to John P. Crowley, commissioner of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Healthcare Administration.

    He is expected to make a decision any day, Thabault said.

    If the recovery program succeeds, it could expand to other regions under the direction of the applicant company headed up by Alan Aiken, an addiction counselor formerly with the Kingdom-based Tri-County Substance Abuse program.

    "There is a definitely an area of need between Bennington and Rutland," Aiken said.

    Aiken, who attended the public oversight meeting in Burlington last Thursday, said the panel discussed prospects for the program expanding from St. Johnsbury's hub offices to the rest of the state, especially the Bennington-Rutland corridor and the Brattleboro to White River Junction area. Conversations with the state Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs concerning future addiction treatment sites there have already begun, he added.

    According to Aiken, the application process allows the organization responsible for starting up the Northeast Kingdom program to expand the project throughout the state.

    Though final approval has not been secured, the lengthy effort to set up the state's first mobile methadone clinic has involved a lot of groundwork already. Medical offices in Newport and St. Johnsbury have been secured, phone and fax numbers have been obtained, customized addiction treatment vehicles are awaiting delivery and the St. Johnsbury office is already undergoing reconstruction and interior decorating.

    "We don't officially have a contract," Aiken said, explaining any work undertaken is being done in anticipation of state approval. "We can't officially recruit or interview until we have a contract," he said.

    But those involved in the process sounded eager to get started.

    "I am very glad the (committee) approval went through. I just want to get going with the project," said Steve Kline, a St. Johnsbury resident actively involved in promoting community drug recovery. Kline said he and other locals are seeking jobs with the clinic.

    The program will use two methadone-dispensing units, one in Newport and one in St. Johnsbury with main medical offices in St. Johnsbury. St. Johnsbury will house the hub office in a building on Portland Street, formerly The Big Ugly Bear auto dealership and Dad's 4-By.

    Local methadone sites will allow recovering addicts who now travel hours to Burlington, Hudson, N.H. and Greenfield, Mass. to get treatment closer to home. This will make it easier for them to stay off drugs, keep a job and get their lives together, project proponents argue. The Northeast Kingdom was chosen for the first sites because statistics show Caledonia and Orleans counties have the highest concentration of drug addicts in recovery per capita statewide.

    The effort to set up a mobile methadone clinic came after the 2003-2004 Legislature allocated money to create a program in the Northeast Kingdom, where state Department of Public Health data indicate a high concentration of people seeking addiction treatment.

    The state spends $500,000 annually to transport addicts to programs as far away as Burlington, Greenfield, Mass., and Hudson, N.H., for methadone treatment. Of that, $450,000 is spent on Northeast Kingdom residents, according to state officials.

    The Chittenden Center, the only other methadone dispensing site in the state, serves around 130 clients, but those are a small fraction of the estimated 3,000 heroin addicts in Vermont.

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