Central Vermont agencies offer help to drug users in crisis

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BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) What would happen, if you asked for help at a Vermont police station? In Washington County an addiction program that has been ongoing since 2016 aims to make access to help easy.

"I'm very ill right now. I can't even think straight. I could literally pass out from pain," said Maddie Linsenmeir.

The Vermont woman was captured on surveillance camera last October telling police in Springfield, Massachusetts she was sick and needed medical help. Her family says she never got out and that she died.

What happens if someone in our region is in police custody and says they need to see a doctor? Central Vermont Substance Abuse Services is just one place where someone can go to find treatment for opiate addiction and the police departments in this area say they are also ready to help.

"If you come to the door or you come up to an officer on the street, or my social worker, and you say 'I need help,' we will get you help," said Barre Police Chief Timothy Bombardier.

The police may not be the place someone struggling with addiction may go to first, but they're ready to help those who do, even if you're facing charges.

"Doesn't make your criminal charges go away, may be a wake up call for you," Bombardier said.

He says some have come to the department asking for help and access to treatment. But he says if substance abuse is a factor in any criminal activity, family and friends need to let police and the courts know so that they can help line up treatment.

"Those things need to be relayed to everybody in the system. Is it pretty? No. Is it something necessary to have in the light of day so that people get the help they need? Yes," Bombardier said.

"At this point, especially in Central Vermont, if you walk through one door even if they can't help you, they'll know which door to send you to," said Deborah Hopkins, the director at Central Vermont Substance Abuse Services, or CVSAS. She says police, treatment facilities, health clinics, and the hospital are part of Project Safe Catch.

"It really forces all the different providers in the community," Hopkins said. "To get together and understand how we work and find where the barriers might be for people that we serve."

Hopkins says the program hasn't seen a large number of participants, but it has been successful in getting treatment to those who seek it. "We all have our own systems and it can be very intimidating for an individual or family to get somebody access to care," she said.

Project Safe Catch helps connect those seeking help get to treatment faster and allows different organizations to work as one to help the community deal with the opiate crisis.

"Vermont has had the lucky and unlucky tag of being one of the highest profile states in addressing the issue. But I really like to look at is the fact we're more proactive, we're more willing to recognize it. This is an evolving issue that's getting bigger and bigger by day and we're losing more and more people to it," Hopkins said.