Editor's note: This is the first of three stories about drug addiction treatment options available in Bennington County.
BENNINGTON -- Local officials and doctors are recognizing the need for more accessible drug addiction treatment options in Bennington County.
Over the past year, more than 60 people have been arrested in drug sweeps carried out in and around Bennington.
The vast majority of those apprehended were not only dealers, but users as well, selling drugs to fund their addictions, according to authorities.
With Bennington County's drug epidemic widely recognized throughout the state, the importance of immediate treatment and rehabilitation options for users remains a priority for local law enforcement officials, doctors, and mental health professionals.
United Counseling Service is one of a handful of options available locally to addicts, according to Ralph Provenza, the agency's executive director.
Provenza said Friday that there are over 250 people currently being treated for opiate replacement therapy throughout the county and through UCS satellite facilities, as well as an additional 410 substance abuse clients currently enrolled in their system.
He noted that UCS provides various means of support for individuals addicted to drugs, including group and individual counseling, but that the extent of its services is only "scratching the surface."
"Clearly there are more people that could use our services that we are not able to reach and there are also services we'd like to provide but can't based on our funding," he said, "But substance abuse is a very large and active part of our organization."
UCS currently runs 10 substance abuse counseling groups between its Manchester and Bennington offices, according to Provenza.
UCS Substance Abuse Services Manager Paul DiIonno said that, unlike 10 or 15 years ago, there is no longer a waiting list for individuals seeking treatment.
"If you call for treatment, you will be seen within a few days," he said. "The challenge really has to do with the availability of groups, availability of treatment when you need it, and perhaps location."
DiIonno noted the need for an intensive outpatient program, which he believes many clients could benefit from.
"We have not put one together yet, but we are optimistic that we will soon," he said. "It's clear that there are folks out there that need our help but are not getting it."
The Turning Point Club of Bennington serves as an additional resource for drug addiction treatment.
However, unlike UCS, Turning Point provides moral support to its clients rather than medical care or treatment.
Director Joan Walsh said her Main Street facility offers a space for people in recovery to feel safe and be among people in similar situations.
Clients are encouraged to engage in dialogue with one another, rather than with medical or mental health professionals.
"This is key," she said. "We're not a treatment facility and we know it, but I believe we're a very strong addition to what the community is already doing."
According to Walsh, Turning Point also rents space to various 12-step programs.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette noted the importance of local treatment options like Turning Point and UCS, adding that he firmly believes that mandatory treatment should be ordered following any criminal sentence related to substance abuse.
"We often forget about the recovery piece. That needs to be there as well," he said. "If these people don't have something solid in their lives, they're going to go back to what they know, selling, using, and making their life what they think is a lot easier. We need to make sure that these offenders are getting the treatment that they need."
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.