Rutland opens its long awaited methadone clinic this week. Local leaders believe it will provide much needed help for recovering addicts and curb drug related crime in the city. But many point out that it will also make life easier for scores of people still waiting for treatment or traveling to receive it.
Kim, a recovering heroine addict from Rutland, who asked that her last name not be used for this story, says she knows many people who will be helped by the new clinic.
She says for the last year, two of her relatives have had to take an early morning bus to West Lebanon every day to get methadone. “My cousin has 3 children, one of whom is an infant,” says Kim. “She has to find someone to babysit in the morning and her 11-year-old has to get to school after she’s on the bus. So it’s difficult for her.”
Those who use Suboxone, which like methadone is also used to help people withdraw from opiates, have complained for years that the few Rutland physicians who prescribe it have long waiting lists or are not accepting new patients.
Now, with the opening of the West Ridge Center for Addiction Recovery in Rutland, those needing help will have more options.
Dr. Gordon Frankle, the clinic’s medical director walks through the new facility’s lobby pointing out where patients will check in. “When they’re called for their dose, they’ll come back through this dosing area, where they’ll report to one of three windows.”
The dosing area he mentions looks a bit like a high security bank. Medical technicians on one side of a security window will disperse individual doses of Methadone and Suboxone and ensure its consumed on site.
The drugs blunt the painful symptoms of opiate withdrawal without producing a high. Dr. Frankle, who’s also head of psychiatric services at Rutland Regional Medical Center, says the medication gives recovering addicts the breathing room they need to begin to put their life back together.
“The medication is a part of the treatment of addiction,” says Frankle. “And that’s an important point to underscore, that it’s not the only piece to treating addiction.” He says making sure clients get involved with long-term support through 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous is also important.
Case managers at the clinic will ensure clients can also access dental care, visit a doctor, apply for food stamps and get help finding a job or training for one.
While most methadone clinics in Vermont have tried over the years to provide some of these services, the state has recently earmarked more funding to oversee it.
Officials at Rutland Regional Medical Center, which is managing West Ridge, say once it’s up to speed, they expect to serve 400 patients a year and employ between 30 and 40 people. Their total annual cost?... about $2.3 million.
Clay Gilbert, Director of Evergreen Substance Abuse Services, an outpatient treatment center in Rutland, says its money well spent. “Just looking at it from a financial point of view,” says Gilbert, “if you have 400 people, which is their target number; if those people are not out there robbing and stealing TVs from Wal-Mart and doing breaking-and-enterings and all of that, that’s going to save the community a great deal of money. When those folks get caught then they end up in the criminal justice system and that is very expensive and then if they end up in jail that’s another is another huge expense.” And Gilbert adds, “That doesn’t even begin to take into account all the health issues that go with addiction like hepatitis, HIV and other problems.”
He says if you can turn that around and get people stabilized and back to school or employed, many eventually become taxpayers and contribute.
But not everyone is excited about the new clinic. At the Turning Point Center in Rutland about a dozen people caught up after a recent Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
Jason, who in keeping with the rules of NA, asked that his real name not be used for this story, says he’s a recovering addict who will be clean for 4 years in November. He says Methadone and Suboxone cover up the real underlying problem of addiction. “It’s society’s way of sweeping us under the rug and saying here, poor little addict, you can’t get your life together, you’re going to keep being a problem you can take this stuff and we don’t have to worry about you.”
He shakes his head and adds, “If you offer us a softer, easier way out, we will take it because we’re addicts.”
But Clay Gilbert disagrees. Gilbert says addiction is a chronic illness much like diabetes. He says some people are able to control their blood sugar by losing weight and exercising more. But he says a lot of people can’t and need insulin. “That doesn’t’ make them good or bad,” says Gilbert. “Some of these folks make lifestyle changes and some have a very difficult time doing so.”
Matt, a recovering addict who uses Suboxone, agrees. He says it’s important to have as many local treatment options as possible and he sees Rutland’s new clinic as a step in the right direction. “Knowing that there’s something you can use on a daily basis that legal and prescribed to you to help, it’s still a help,” says Matt. “If you have a broken leg, you’re going to get crutches, you know what I mean?”
While Matt says he admires addicts who can kick the drug habit completely, he’s happy to see more local options available for those who can’t.