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Addicts panic as key Vt. treatment program closes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Addicts panic as key Vt. treatment program closes

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Fallout after a key drug treatment center closes in Chittenden County. What's the state's plan now that Maple Leaf says it's shutting its doors forever? Investigative Reporter Jennifer Costa broke this story last month. She was out talking to addicts and health officials Friday and found out this will mean longer wait times for treatment. Right now, addicts looking for residential programs are being told they'll have to wait 2-3 weeks for help. That's 2-3 weeks they're still using and 2-3 weeks they're still committing crimes to pay for their drug habits. Health officials told WCAX News this is a direct result of Maple Leaf closing.

"John" goes to work every day. He can pay his bills again. And he's finally regaining his family's trust.

"My life's been great ever since about 15 months ago," he said.

That's when John got clean. He didn't want us to show his face or reveal his real name, but he wants you to hear his story. John was a heroin addict for seven years. He now has a prescription for Suboxone. The daily opiate blocker keeps him sober and makes withdrawal less painful.

"It's like my lifeline right now," John said.

Thursday night, he heard on the Channel 3 News that Maple Leaf Treatment Center is closing. John gets his Suboxone from its outpatient center in Colchester. Without it, he's afraid he'll relapse.

"I instantly went into panic," he said.

Maple Leaf's troubles started last year at its residential facility in Underhill. Patients at the 41-bed treatment center complained about care and chronic understaffing. The state sent investigators. WCAX News got their reports. They reveal problems with unqualified staff, inadequate training, missing patient records and other compliance issues. The state gave the facility 30 days to clean up its act.

"Apparently they felt that that wasn't possible," said Barbara Cimaglio, the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.

Maple Leaf told us in January it was working on an improvement plan. Instead, management pulled the plug permanently on all its programs, including John's. The decision stunned Cimaglio.

"This is a program that's been around for 50 years and to see it go down so quickly like this, it's really tragic," she said.

We asked if losing 41 beds in the midst of an opiate crisis is a blow.

"Oh, my gosh. Yes. Definitely. Definitely, it's a blow," Cimaglio said.

"It's got our parents worried. It's got our family worried," John said.

John's next appointment was scheduled for Monday morning. He says no one at Maple Leaf is answering his calls.

"It just rings for two to three minutes," John said. "I'm not sure what to think really."

We tried to get him some answers. Maple Leaf's director, Catey Iacuzzi, didn't answer our calls either, so it's hard to know why they closed.

We asked the health department what will happen to the 160 patients in John's outpatient program.

"We don't have a definitive plan but our goal is to maintain those relationships between the patient and the physician," Cimaglio said. "We don't want their treatment interrupted."

But "just wait" is a scary message for addicts like John fighting every day to stay clean.

"I just hope they figure it out," he said.

Right now, the health department is eyeing open bed space in neighboring states. They admit that's a short-term fix. They tell me a long-term solution is in its earliest stages and they couldn't share the details.

As far as that outpatient program that John depends on, the state is talking with the directors of Valley Vista and Serenity House.

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Vt. addiction treatment center temporarily closing

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