Bennington Mental Health Center implements opioid drug program

Bennington Mental Health Center implements opioid drug program

United Counseling Service head office on Ledgehill Drive in Bennington. Photo courtesy of United Counseling Service

A community mental health center in Bennington has launched an opioid medication program, which comes as southern Vermont continues to see a high rate of opioid overdose deaths.

The new United Counseling Service program involves administering buprenorphine, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid use disorder. The drug is used to help people detox from illicit opioids, reduce the risk of overdose, and maintain long-term recovery.

The 65-year-old Bennington County nonprofit now offers the outpatient service to help meet a local need for diverse treatment options under one roof, said Alex Figueroa, assistant director of services substance use disorder treatment program at United Counseling Service.

Figueroa said the program — known as medication-assisted treatment or medication for opioid use disorder — complements the organization’s existing services in this area, such as case management, individual counseling and group therapy.

“Our goal is, really, to provide a full spectrum and wrap-around support services for people with substance use disorders,” he said, “not just to provide the treatment, but to provide a path to healing and recovery”.

Figueroa said the program aims to have 30 customers within 90 days of opening. It is aimed specifically at residents of Bennington County.

This addition to the United Counseling Service’s lineup of programs comes weeks after the state released the death toll from fatal opioid overdoses in 2022.

Preliminary data shows that 237 Vermont residents have died from accidental opioid overdoses, including 17 in Bennington County. The county had the fifth-highest death rate based on population, while other southern Vermont counties — Windham, Rutland and Windsor — were in the top three.

Margae Diamond, director of the Turning Point Recovery Center in Bennington, believes the United Counseling Service Opioid Medication Program is a positive step in the state’s fight against the opioid epidemic.

“We absolutely need more options for people asking for help,” Diamond said. “For people with a diagnosed mental health condition, this is great because it provides easy access and one-stop shopping for combined mental health and addictions treatment and advice.”

United Counseling Service joins four other organizations in Bennington County that provide the same service, said Dr. John Saroyan, executive director of Vermont’s Blueprint for Health, which operates the state’s Hub & Spoke treatment system for disorders related to the use of opioids in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. .

Other opioid drug providers in the county are Battenkill Valley Health Center in Arlington, the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center campus in Pownal, and Mount Anthony Primary Care and SaVida Health, both in Bennington.

They are categorized as “radiant” sites, which provide ongoing treatment for substance use disorders in community settings. Treatment is integrated with general medical care, like that for other chronic conditions.

Bennington County currently does not have a “hub,” a regional site that provides expanded services for complex substance use disorders. The centers are the resource for the most intensive treatment options in their area.

“When we look at the landscape of treatment options in Bennington County, that’s the missing piece,” Figueroa said. “We just have to be a little patient.”

Dr. Saroyan said satellite sites must be registered with Vermont Medicaid and have a physical location where patients can be seen. Prescribers, on the other hand, need a valid license from the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe or administer controlled substances.

As of the third quarter of 2022, nearly 10,000 Vermonters were receiving medication for opioid use disorder, according to data from the Vermont Department of Health. He said this program has stabilized over the past two years after more than eight years of steady growth.

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