New ideas being considered for drug treatment in Bennington County
BENNINGTON — While a group of officials said they had concerns about the amount of resources in Bennington County available for treating people with drug addictions, they also saw signs of hope and new ideas.
A group of people, including medical professionals and law enforcement officials, came together last week at the Bennington fire facility to talk about the availability of drug addiction treatment options in Bennington County.
The subject has attracted interest after the county was the site of two drug sweeps in less than a year, with the second one taking place last year.
Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said he believes people with a drug addiction might be better served if courthouses had a screener available who could determine whether someone being charged with a drug-related crime was trying to make money from selling drugs or someone so deeply addicted that the crimes were being committed only to support the habit.
“If you went to the emergency room and you were saying, ‘I’ve got chest pains,’ they wouldn’t open you up and do open-heart surgery before they ran a few tests. But that’s what we’re asked to do every day in court,” he said.
More than a year ago, Sears, while in Rutland to talk about the possibility of creating a drug treatment hub in the area, was told that it would cost $95,000 a year to support a heroin habit in Rutland. He said he expected the cost in Bennington would be similar.
“You think about $95,000 a year and how much crime has to go on to support that $95,000 a year,” he said.
Dr. Nels Kloster, an addiction psychiatrist, said he thought the idea of the “hub and spoke” approach made Vermont “very foresightful and probably unique in the country.”
The idea is that people with the worst cases of drug addiction would be treated at central locations, usually methadone clinics like the ones in Barre, Burlington, and Brattleboro, and other patients, whose addictions aren’t as strong, could be treated in their own town by their own doctor. Local doctors would get support with the help of therapists or social workers.
“Rather than simply doling out methadone on a daily basis or doling out suboxone as needed for treatment, they are bringing in resources to help meet all the health needs of the patients who are getting treatment there,” he said.
Kloster said there may still be a need for more hubs and pointed out there are “a cadre of folks who are living in Bennington who are actually traveling Route 9, over the mountain, to get to Brattleboro for their treatment.
Dr. Peter Park, a family practice doctor who works for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center at the Deerfield Valley campus in Wilmington, said he’s already treating some of his own patients for addictions and has seen the importance.
“This is a chronic illness that affects all of their other illnesses. Probably the first one because if you’re looking for drugs every other day, you’re not treating your diabetes, you’re not treating your hypertension. This is a health problem that needs to be addressed so that the rest of the health problems can be addressed,” he said.
Ralph Provenza, executive director of United Counseling Services, said the agency has seen its own improvements with the reduction of its waiting list through “creative use of funding and real strong commitment on part of staff.” Patients can be screened within a few days and the biggest problem remaining is delivering treatment or group meetings that are accessible to the patient.
Many of those at the meeting said they also thought there would be a value to continued conversation among people like themselves so they could better understand the larger treatment picture.
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