RUTLAND — A new opioid addiction treatment center will open its doors Wednesday.
The West Ridge Center for Addiction Recovery at the Howe Center in Rutland is the fourth of five regional treatment centers that treat 3,500 Vermonters who are addicted to heroin and prescription drugs such as oxycodone.
The center’s opening comes as the state prepares for the highest demand for opioid treatment in history, Gov. Peter Shumlin said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the center Tuesday.
While the waiting lists for treatment stack up across the state, Shumlin said many communities are frustrated by the criminal acts that support the costly addiction to drugs.
“You’ve got to steal a lot of iPads to support a $90,000 a year habit,” Shumlin said said. “What this treatment center is all about is saying listen, let’s treat the addicts as a disease and make their future and our future brighter,” he said.
The center is part of the state’s regional “Hub & Spoke” initiative designed last year, an addiction treatment model that combines treatment centers, the “hubs,” with continued case management and support from clinicians, the “spokes.”
The state’s latest hub will have the capacity to treat 400 patients per day, according to Tom Huebner, president and CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center.
The center will begin accepting 20 to 30 patients per day and then add about 10 patients each week through next year, Huebner said.
Currently, some Rutland residents travel to West Lebanon, N.H., or Burlington for daily treatment, he said. Long travel times prevent addicts from getting their life back together, Huebner said said.
The West Ridge Center will not completely address the need, according to Harry Chen, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.
“It’s a good start,” Chen said. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”
He said more doctors are needed to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to wean addicts off other opioids.
“Some places, there are enough of them, and some places, frankly, there are not enough,” Chen said.
While some primary care doctors are reluctant to prescribe drugs that could later be sold or abused, the state’s coordinated program ensures that physicians will work with clinicians when prescribing medication-assisted therapy using buprenorphine, Chen said. These clinicians ensure that the patients are compliant with their prescriptions, he said.
Methadone, a treatment drug that cannot leave the center, will be prescribed daily at the West Ridge Center.
A fifth treatment center, which will serve the northeast region of Orleans, Essex and Caledonia counties, is scheduled to open in January.