Treatment options needed to fight addiction, officials say

BENNINGTON COUNTY - "'Take the greatest feeling you've ever had, the birth of your first child, your marriage, the biggest fish you've ever caught, whatever the greatest feeling you've ever had is and multiply that by ten;' and she said 'That's what I feel like when I'm high,'" said Lieutenant Reginald Trayah, Commander of the Shaftsbury Barracks for the Vermont State Police of what an informant had once told him. "And then she said 'Take the sickest you've ever been. I mean you're so sick that you just kind of wish someone would put you out of your misery and then multiply that by ten, but then have the knowledge that a small little bag, no bigger than a postage stamp, will take it all away.'"

It was that striking explanation that made Trayah realize that more than enforcement was going to be needed to treat the drug problem that exists in Bennington County and throughout the state; rehabilitation would be critical.

State Senator Richard Sears (D - Bennington) - who was one of the people responsible for helping create the Vermont Drug Task Force's Mobile Enforcement Team that has been responsible for the arrests in the two sweeps - expressed similar sentiments.

"Our penalties are fairly strong as they are right now. We have pretty tough penalties for selling drugs in the State of Vermont. They're not light, particularly when you get into the trafficking level, they're very strong penalties," said Sears. "So, I'm not sure it's a matter of the penalties. I think what's lacking right now is the treatment out there that people need. I think that is ultimately what will make a difference in all of this."

However, there in lies the problem - especially in the southwestern part of the state. Currently, a person living in Bennington County seeking methadone treatment must travel to Brattleboro, Burlington, Greenfield, Mass., or West Lebanon, N.H., according to Deputy Commissioner for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs with the Vermont Department of Health Barbara Cimaglio.

Plans are in the works to create a "hub and spoke" method of treatment with a methadone clinic based in Rutland serving as the hub. The methadone clinic was originally supposed to be up and running sometime this month, but now is not expected to be operational until November.

The "spoke" portion of the model involves providing those recovering from opiate addiction with Buprenorphine - a semi-synthetic opiod that is used to suppress the cravings of opiate drugs such as heroin.

"We're very excited about it. It's a very much needed piece of the recovery puzzle here," said Manager of Substance Abuse Services at United Counseling Services for Adult Outpatients, Paul DiIonno of the hub and spoke model. "It's just another tool for people to be able to access for opiate addiction; another option to help with their recovery."

Unlike methadone - which must be administered at a clinic - Buprenorphine is a medication that can be prescribed at a doctors office.

"You have to be able to obtain a license in order to prescribe the Buprenorphine, which is not that difficult to do," said DiIonno. "So, we have people in this community that do prescribe Buprenorphine. Some of them are part of the spoke and some of them are not, but the hub and spoke providers work together."

While the abuse of prescription drugs and the abuse of other opiates such as heroin are declining, Cimaglio said they are also seeing an increase in the number of people receiving treatment.

"We're seeing many more people coming in for treatment because of opiate dependence . General population, I think, as we said, [we're] trending in the right direction. But people who are experiencing problems with drugs and seeking treatment, definitely the opiate problem is on the rise and we're seeing more people," she said. "We have been seeing for the past few years more people coming in because of prescription drug addiction and now we're also seeing some increase in the number of people coming in for heroin addiction."

According to the Vermont Substance Abuse Treatment Information System (SATIS) - which reflects only people receiving treatment at state-funded treatment facilities - treatment for opiate use has been on the rise since 2000.

In 2000, the number of people being treated for opiates and synthetics was 140. That number steadily increased over the next 11 years with 2,210 people being treated in 2011.

The number of people being treated for heroin also saw a significant spike. In 2000 there were 256 people being treated for heroin. By 2003 that number had risen to 693 and reached its peak in 2006 when 722 people were treated.

Although there may not have been as many people treated, those being treated for non-prescription methadone also saw a drastic increase. From 2000-2003, 17 people were treated for non-prescription methadone - never rising above 10 people a year. From 2004-2011, 389 people were treated with the largest number in any given year, 80, coming in 2011.

There have been two significant drug sweeps in Bennington County this year. The first, which took place in January, resulted in the arrest of 48 people.

In the second raid, Operation County Strike Two, 21 people were arrested on drug related crimes - seven of them from the Northshire.

While some of them are facing stiff maximum penalties, Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage saidit was difficult to say what kind of sentences they may be facing.

"I can't say what each person would be looking at. I can't even say what we'd be looking to make offers in the range of because it's going to depend on what happens over the next two months or so," said Marthage. "Are they folks that we're going to start hearing about again or are they folks that are going to go into residential treatment and totally revamp their life?"

Marthage continued to say that the environment the people are in will likely play a determining factor. If they are in the same environment as before, she said it is unlikely that rehabilitation will be successful.

Providing treatment for those who are addicted is not only beneficial for them personally, but for society as a whole as the number of home invasions - or "quality of life" crimes - are on the rise as a result, according to law enforcement and state officials.

"This is going to take a concerted effort on behalf of the state [and] local governments to provide treatment alternatives, as well as strong law enforcement presence [and] a strong court response," Sears said. "We all hope someday it (the Mobile Enforcement Team) won't be needed and we'll turn the corner on this heroin problem and prescription pill problem and addiction problem in Bennington County and the rest of the state and we're not going to do that until we have proper treatment in place as well as the law enforcement piece."


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