BENNINGTON -- The time may be ripe for a drug treatment center to come to Bennington, according to a state senator and town leaders.
"I think it's time for Bennington to start to work to have a methadone clinic, whether it be a mobile one that's here a few times a week or a permanent one," said Sen, Dick Sears, D-Bennington. "We are relying on Suboxone as a maintenance treatment and that's highly diverted to the illegal drug trade itself."
He spoke via telephone at a panel discussion held Friday at the Bennington Fire Facility. The event was planned by Rutland Herald Reporter Patrick McArdle as a way of letting local leaders from the town, police, schools, and health care system respond to an article in the New York Times featuring heroin addiction in town. The article irritated many people who found parts of it "sensational" or inaccurate, however the fact there is a heroin problem in town is not largely disputed.
Ralph Provenza, executive director of United Counseling Service, said UCS serves 400 people with a substance abuse issue and there is a long waiting list. "There are five physicians in our community that are prescribing opiate replacement therapies," he said. "Some of them are maxed out, they can't take anymore and there are people waiting."
He said methadone is not available in this community and to get it one must travel to Rutland or Brattleboro.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said that four years ago when talk of bringing a drug treatment clinic to Bennington was floated, people were apprehensive. "There's the feeling that's going to draw more people to your community who are struggling with addiction," he said. "Two years ago, I would say that thinking changed. And the (Select Board) members who are here today can back me up, or not, but I think the community is ready to host some form of a clinic in some fashion."
He said the Times article appears to have galvanized the people fighting drug addiction, and where some had been working on their own or in small partnerships there seems to be a desire now to work as a concerted group.
Any effort undertaken must have three elements, said Judith Fellows, substance abuse prevention consultant for the Department of Health. It must comprehensive and incorporate law enforcement, health care, and the school system, involve reducing the risk of people becoming addicted, and it must all be sustained for a period of three to five years at least.
There was also talk of what has been done to combat the issue. Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said the drug sweep last January and follow-up sweep in September put police in contact with dozens of people willing to seek treatment and aid law enforcement. This has led to the arrests in recent weeks of people bringing large amounts of drugs into the state. Moreover, the community has become fed up with drug activity and is giving information to police on suspicious things they see, that has led to arrests.
Select Board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk Jr. said the board and police saw this becoming a problem some years ago and applied for a grant to assign a police officer to the local high school. The town opted to fund the position after the grant ran out, and has mulled expanding it to the middle school.
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Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.