The struggle to get addicted Vermonters clean

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont continues to struggle with opiate abuse. We're taking a look at treatment for those who are addicted and how easy it is to get it.

Our Dom Amato spoke with Vermont's health commissioner and a woman who has been through the system to get clean.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says Vermont has taken the "meet the person where they are" approach. It's something one woman wishes was available to her five years ago.

"It doesn't matter that it's been five years, I know what it feels like, like it was just yesterday," Jennifer Beayon said.

Beayon is talking about what it's like to be addicted and not using. Dealing with sickness every day, not being able to get out of bed and not being able to care for her children unless she was high.

"It's not anything anyone would want to go through," Beayon said.

Beayon started using OxyContin at 17 after her first child was born but turned to heroin because it was cheaper. She hit a point she knew she needed help and got it at the Brattleboro Retreat. But transportation was an issue from Rutland County.

"So, I couldn't keep getting back and forth and ended up not staying on the bupe, and ended up using again," Beayon said.

The cycle started again. She tried staying clean but it was too hard. She decided to call the clinic in Chittenden County to get help.

"It was a really long list, it took a few months before I got a call back," she said.

That was about five years ago. Data from the Department of Health shows more than 500 people were waiting for treatment at some point in 2014. That has since changed.

"There's multiple ways to access the system if you will," Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

Levine says there is now no waitlist to access medication-assisted treatment.

"That is their first line because that is where the medical evidence lies-- that that is the most successful," Levine said.

Medication-assisted treatment or MAT is the most common form of treatment in Vermont. Those struggling with an opiate addiction can be prescribed methadone, buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone or Vivitrol. MAT is widely available in Vermont and can be accessed almost on demand.

"Certainly within 72 hours but hopefully even quicker," Levine said.

This is part of Vermont's hub-and-spoke system. There are at least nine hubs in Vermont. A hub is a regional opioid treatment program staffed by addiction medicine specialists.

Just in February, hubs around Vermont saw almost 4,000 clients. More than half are prescribed methadone and about a third get buprenorphine.

"You may actually be able to go once a month and get a prescription, interact with the physician, the nurse and the behavioral health specialist, so get all the right services, but certainly not on a daily basis," Levine said.

A spoke is usually a primary care physician's office. Some may begin their treatment at a spoke, while others transition to a spoke after beginning recovery in a hub.

"The recovery is different for everybody," Beayon said.

When Beayon was first waiting for that call for treatment five years ago, she says she had no choice but to continue using. Now, she's still taking methadone and is slowly lowering the dosage. She works at the Turning Point Center in Burlington as a recovery coach, helping people who were in the situation she was in five years ago.

"You can still have a life. It doesn't mean your life is over; it was just a little part of it. It doesn't define who you are; it doesn't make you a bad person," Beayon said.

Levine says inpatient treatment is also available. He says that is best for those in a severe situation who really need to leave the environment they're in to get the best treatment. He says beds are open in those facilities but none are immediately ready to admit someone in an emergency situation. It has to the right person in the right type of bed that happens to be open at the time.