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Published on April 15th, 2015 | by Deb Wolf

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Opiate Addiction & Hope for Families

Current prEvents   April 13, 2015   Times Argus

Opiate Addiction and Hope for Families

By Sarah Munro, Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant for the Vermont Department of Health at the Barre District Office

“When I think back to that time in my life, the time when I first ‘came out of the closet’ about my addiction to prescription pain killers, I am immediately thrown into a tailspin of emotion and regret. It astounds me to think of how little I knew back then, how naive I was in regards to the magnitude of what I was battling. Sometimes I wonder how different this journey might have been for all of us, my family and me, if only we had been half as ignorant as it turned out that we were, when embarking on this duel to the death.” – Raina Lowell

When Governor Shumlin made opiate addiction the subject of his State of the State address in 2014, he shined a powerful light on the experiences of people like Lowell who have struggled with addiction. According to the Department of Health, over 4000 Vermonters were in treatment for opiate addiction in 2013. That year also marked the first time in our state’s history that more people were in treatment for opioids than for alcohol.

Lowell appeared in the Vermont documentary “The Hungry Heart” and writes a blog entitled “How to Love a Drug Addict.” Like so many, her addiction began with pain medication that was prescribed to her and progressed to heroin abuse. On tour with the documentary, she has met many people touched by addiction. She says, “No matter what town I’m in, no matter the size of the community, no matter how rich or poor the residents, I have the same experience over and over and over again. Moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, spouses, etc., come to see the film in an attempt to better understand their addict–and to hear the secret formula for how to get them sober.”

The good news is that services for people with opiate addiction and their families are improving. A common option for help is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which can come in the form of prescribed methadone or buprenorphine (suboxone).There has been a history of long waiting lists and challenges finding doctors who had the capacity to treat the complex needs of those with addiction. The Care Alliance for Opioid Addiction, commonly known as Vermont’s Hub and Spoke system, is designed to ensure that people seeking treatment receive the services they need in a timely fashion. Central Vermont Addiction Medicine in Berlin serves as the entry point (“hub”) for anyone in this area needing help. It provides Medication-Assisted Treatment for people who need intensive services and provides support to doctors in the field (“spokes”) who prescribe buprenorphine. Perhaps most important of all, the Hub and Spoke system goes beyond simply prescribing medication and also provides wraparound care coordination and support for those struggling with addiction. When this model started, wait lists in our area zeroed out. As of February, there were 400 people in treatment and 100 more on the wait list as more people seek help. There is still a need for more doctors to act as spokes.

Access to treatment is an important part of addressing the opiate problem. Recognizing that recovery is a lifelong process, it is equally important that those who struggle with addiction have supports in place to help them stay sober. Recovery Centers around the state help to meet that need. The Turning Point Center of Central Vermont in Barre (479-7373) provides not only a physical gathering space for people in recovery, but also a welcoming environment for affected family members. “Wit’s End” is a weekly support group for parents whose children are having problems related to alcohol or other drug use. Parents with children of any age are welcome to attend, Wednesdays at 6 pm.

There is still more work to do. Governor Shumlin held a community forum on opiate addiction in June and regions were encouraged to launch local efforts. Interest in Washington County was high. There were 12 slots for the Governor’s Forum and 65 people wanted to attend. The Washington County Opiate Addiction Workgroup has built upon that momentum, with a mission to raise awareness and improve supports for people struggling with addiction. The group, which is composed of service providers as well as those personally affected by addiction, encourages participation from all who have something to contribute. If you are interested, call Sarah Munro at (802) 479-4250.

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