MONTPELIER -- An estimated 50,000 people in Vermont need treatment for addiction problems every year and don’t get it, and efforts to expand treatment options for people addicted to heroin and other opiates are expected to increase pressure on the treatment system, the head of an addiction-treatment center told a state Senate committee Thursday.
"We know that this is a chronic disease. If you’re fortunate, half your folks will succeed, but half won’t and will come back to have to try again, sometimes, again and again," said Bill Young, the executive director of the Maple Leaf Farm residential drug and alcohol treatment and recovery center in Underhill. "If you’re looking at demand, demand is not going to go down initially, it’s going to go up."
Young’s comments came during a Senate Health and Welfare committee hearing designed to inform lawmakers about the details of substance-abuse treatment programs available in the state.
Vermont Health Department statistics estimate that in 2012 about 10,000 people received treatment for substance abuse.
In January, as part of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s effort to combat what he called a heroin crisis, the governor said many addicts couldn’t get the treatment they wanted, and he called on lawmakers to expand access. The state also is working to expand diversion programs that work to get addicts treatment rather prosecuting them.
All of those things put additional pressure on the state’s treatment programs and providers.
"We’re trying to increase our understanding of how it works in Vermont," Health and Welfare Committee Chair Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, said in an email after the hearing. No specific legislation is being considered now, but "we expect to propose legislation early next year that gives some structure and oversight to the system but maintains flexibility."
Young said addiction-treatment professionals are learning new methods of helping people cope with addiction while at the same time getting the most out of the money spent on the systems.
"The devil is in the details. ... As we look at these systems, how we implement this change is just vital. Giving everybody who is an opiate addict, putting everyone who is an opiate addict on Suboxone is a big mistake," Young said, referring to a drug used to treat people addicted to opium-based drugs. "We need to be careful about who we do that, how we link whether it’s opiate addicts or anybody else with treatment providers."