Going door-to-door to save lives

Turning Point Recovery Center staff reach out to those put at increased risk by isolation

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BENNINGTON — If you'd seen them, you might have wondered what the three people were up to: wearing face masks and gloves, they went from door to door at the Best Western motel, leaving bright-colored drawstring bags on door handles.

To those who asked, the two women and their male companion introduced themselves as peer coaches at the Turning Point recovery center. Around 11:15 a.m. Thursday, they started distributing bags that contained information about locally available social services, such as food pantries, housing referrals, and drug and alcohol recovery programs.

Each bag also held items that could prevent a fatal drug overdose: a 4 mg dose of Narcan, a brand of naloxone antidote for opioid overdose, which costs $90 without insurance at one Bennington pharmacy. There's also a drug test strip, which shows if a batch of drugs is laced with fentanyl.

Considered one of the deadliest opioids around, fentanyl is increasingly being used by drug dealers as an additive because it results in a powerful "high" and is very addictive. It's often found mixed with heroin or cocaine.

"The hope is they'll throw it away," said Turning Point Recovery Coach Julea Larsen. "But if they don't ... the point is people are using safely." The bottom line, she said, is to keep people alive so they hopefully get to the point where they'll want to take the path to recovery.

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Through its network, Turning Point Center learned that opioid overdoses were becoming more frequent during the coronavirus pandemic — which has brought social isolation, massive job losses and uncertainty about the future.

Before the pandemic, recovery center staff heard of opioid overdoses once a week to once every three weeks, Larsen said. About a couple of weeks after the state ordered residents to shelter in place on March 25, Larsen said they became aware of an overdose at least once a week.

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The nonprofit group decided to do a motel outreach on Thursday, knowing that some people with substance-use disorder were staying at motels, said center executive director Tom Haley.

"We also know they are isolated and that many are receiving money," Haley said. "The perfect storm."

It was the first time the recovery center was handing out "harm reduction kits" door to door, he said, a way of adapting to the realities of life during the pandemic.

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Haley, Larsen and fellow recovery coach Marybeth Barrett also went to the West End Motel, where their load of 62 bags ran out at around 1:30 p.m. Besides handing out the orange and purple bags to motel guests, the kits were given to some motel staff too.

The recovery coaches are planning to distribute more kits at other Bennington motels. They're just waiting to receive more supplies from the Vermont Department of Health, including Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

They don't know how many people will read the information on the roughly 20 pieces of paper in the kit. But they say their effort would be worthwhile if it can turn at least one life around.

"What if this Narcan saves one life? Then it was worth it for me," Larsen said. At the very least, the information could "plant a seed" that recovery lay within reach.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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