On the Frontlines of Addiction

More than a decade ago, opiate use hit the State of Vermont with a vengeance. We've witnessed heroin addiction; for example, grow to astonishing levels and a drug that targets people indiscriminately among economic status or social class. We have also seen the growth of addictions related to the widening use of prescription drugs that have found their way to the street corner for sale and distribution.

This epidemic shows no signs of slowing, and is behind much of the criminal activity and the arrests we have been hearing so much about lately in our community. Sadly, we know that we can't arrest ourselves out of this problem - the dealers will keep coming around as long as there is a demand. The attention directed by Governor Shumlin to combat opiate abuse highlights the extent of the problem and is also a recognition of the front-line work of so many to prevent addiction, treat users, and lessen the destructive impact these drugs have had on the lives of so many Vermonters.

Physicians and counselors on the frontlines of addiction have seen first-hand the life destruction which was brought to light recently by Bess O'Brien's acclaimed film "The Hungry Heart." United Counseling Service (UCS), the region's designated mental health and substance use service agency, was at the forefront of this effort in Bennington County, beginning with a treatment program that placed clinicians into the community to work with people wrestling with opiate use problems utilizing an approach that facilitated communication between physicians and counselors in the field to treat those with addiction.

UCS licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselors extended this effort through the Blueprint for Health program. However, we know that demand for treatment exceeds capacity. This community effort needs to continue and be enhanced to see increased success in the future.

Individuals struggling with opiate abuse need a continuum of available treatment options including individual and group counseling, physician directed medication assisted treatment that utilized opiate-replacement therapy, residential treatment and recovery centers such as the Turning Point club here in Bennington. Unfortunately very few communities in Vermont have all of these options at their disposal.

There are three core pieces to quality care in helping those with opiate addiction. The first is quick access to care, the next is obtaining the proper level of care, and the final piece is the availability of local resources for the appropriate follow-up care. An individual, who comes back into the community after treatment, needs to have access to the appropriate support structure to be successful.

UCS has been working to help people in our community gain access to the resources necessary to recover from addiction. We've not done this alone and we work closely other treatment facilities, our partners at Turning Point, the VA clinic, private clinicians and the medical community.

As a designated agency, UCS provides a variety of services to determine a person's treatment needs. Our goal is to provide this treatment to people in a timely manner, and in some instances, to direct them toward the appropriate level of care. We know that the length of time involved in addiction can often determine the success of treatment.

On the local level, we're dedicated to helping every person in the community that needs treatment to overcome their substance use issues. At the same time, we value a comprehensive (statewide) approach to overcoming the addiction epidemic by working shoulder to shoulder with the medical community and Governor Shumlin.

But most important of all, if you feel that you or someone you love is in the grips of addiction, start the process to treatment and recovery today. On the frontlines we know that tomorrow could be too late.

Paul DiIonno is the Manager of Substance Abuse Counseling at UCS.


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