Community members, as well as the board of selectmen, gave a thumbs up to having a mobile methadone clinic visit Hardwick.

About a dozen people turned out for the selectmen\'s meeting Thursday night to learn about the clinic, which will be working out of St. Johnsbury.

They, like members of the board, said they would welcome the mobile methadone clinic to Hardwick.

\"I really support this,\" Nancy Nottermann, a former nurse, told the Hardwick Board of Selectmen. \"This community needs it. We can\'t put our heads in the sand. We need to do this.\"

The Hardwick community, she said, should help people put their lives back together.

Barbara Cimaglio, director of the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs of the Vermont Department of Health, has said she believes the mobile clinics will be the first in a rural area in the United States.

Currently, Vermont residents are going to Burlington; Greenfield, Mass.; and Hudson and Merrimack, N.H., for their doses of methadone.

The health department has awarded a bid for two mobile clinics, one for St. Johnsbury and the other in Newport, to San Francisco-based California Detoxification Programs Inc.

The mobile clinics may be parked in Barton. They will provide clients with methadone doses seven days a week. Counseling also will be provided.

Laurie Cunningham, who did not want to say where she was from, asked how long treatment would last.

\"It varies,\" Cimaglio said, and explained that someone who has used heroin for a very long period of time may have permanent changes to the brain, which would require taking methadone on a daily basis for the rest of his or her life. On the other hand, she said, other people may need just several months to detox their systems.

Cimaglio said part of an evaluation is to determine if treatment requires detoxification or a lifetime of being administered methadone.

She said heroin use has affected communities throughout the state, not just in the Northeast Kingdom.

What is particularly disconcerting, according to Cimaglio, is more and more adolescents are using heroin, and even some young women are trading sex for drugs.

State police Lt. George Hacking said heroin was a problem back in the 1960s and 1970s.

\"And we took a stand against it,\" Hacking said. \"Through treatment and prevention programs, we stemmed the tide.\"

The use of heroin is, however, once again becoming a problem, he said. The goal is to get ahead of the curve before heroin use becomes a bigger problem.

He explained that a couple of years ago, a little baggie containing heroin sold for about $15 in Massachusetts. People buying the drug would return to Vermont and sell it for as much as $30 to $45 a baggie.

Today, though, the drug is so cheap dealers are practically giving it away - giving it away to school kids for as little as $3 a baggie.

That amounts to a child\'s allowance, Hacking said.

\"That problem is not here yet,\" he said. \"That is what we are facing. People are breaking into homes ... stealing. Whatever they can do to get a fix they will do it.\"

Years ago, he said, the purity of heroin was between 3 and 20 percent.

\"Now, it\'s about 90 percent pure,\" Hacking said. \"They are snorting heroin and they are becoming addicted. Potency is one issue.\"

He said a recent study indicated high schools are showing a reduction in the use of pot, cocaine and Ecstasy by students, while there has been an increase in the use of prescription drugs. And when students cannot obtain prescription drugs, they go after heroin.

\"If they want help, let\'s give it to them,\" Hacking said.

He reiterated Cimaglio\'s observation that young women have been selling their bodies for the drug, especially in the Burlington area.

\"Burlington is an extension of (the Northeast Kingdom),\" Hacking said.

Cimaglio said there is a need to look at multiple approaches to address the drug problem.

\"Where we have been weakest is in the treatment area,\" she said, adding that providing methadone as part of treatment is one of the most researched programs.

Methadone, according to Cimaglio, goes into receptor cells in the brain that are occupied by heroin, thus blocking the cravings for heroin.

It also enables the addict to live a normal life.

Treatment alone is not enough, Cimaglio said. Counseling is an integral part of stabilizing the addict as well.

\"It enables them to become productive members of society,\" she said.

People who remember the 1960s know the problems associated with heroin addiction. Today\'s young people, she said, are not old enough to remember the 1960s.

Teenagers attending parties today where there is beer may be tempted to try heroin when presented to them as something harmless, she believes.

\"We are all susceptible to this when we are young,\" Cimaglio said. \"We are finding more and more young people are trying it. Today, it\'s more potent. Once it takes a hold in the brain ... you crave that desire. It\'s not a conscious choice anymore.\"

Cimaglio said she wants to bring treatment into the community because she believes people have a right to become well.

\"What we are seeing is an increased use and an increased demand for treatment in the Northeast Kingdom,\" she said.

The mobile methadone clinic program, Cimaglio said, will enable people to stay in their communities so they will not have to travel hours for treatment. The state is currently paying about $450,000 to send Vermont residents to Massachusetts and New Hampshire for treatment.

\"It is astounding,\" Cimaglio said. \"We made the decision to bring this program to Vermont to spend (the) money on treatment and not transportation.

\"It also will give people their lives back,\" she went on to say. \"It also will reduce crime and help turn the tide.\"

What is especially alarming, Cimaglio said, is that health officials have seen an increase in the number of students who have said they have tried heroin.

\"We need to have a strong approach,\" she said. \"We are coming to you to consider Hardwick as well as other locations.\"

Selectman Kristina Michelsen asked if it is the intention of the health department to have the program located throughout the state.

Cimaglio said it is. Other mobile methadone clinics may be located in the southern part of the state as well.

Michelsen also asked how people\'s identities will be protected when they visit the clinic for treatment.

\"That is a very good question,\" Cimaglio said. \"It is something we have to figure out.\"

Hardwick/Greensboro Police Department Police Chief James Dziobek estimated that within his department\'s 175-square-mile coverage area, there are about 12 people who need treatment.

Dziobek said he agreed with Hacking the program is needed in the community.

\"It is one aspect of what has to happen to make the community whole and healthy,\" he said.

The only way to enable addicts to become healthy again, according to Dziobek, is to agree to have the clinic brought to the Hardwick area.

\"I support it 100 percent and think it is something we need to seriously consider,\" he said.

\"I sense quite a bit of support in the room and the board,\" Chairman Todd Deuso said. \"What do you need from us?\"

Town Manager Dan Hill suggested a motion be passed showing the board\'s support to have the mobile clinic provide treatment in Hardwick.

The board voted unanimously to do so.

Deuso said at least one member of the board would join the St. Johnsbury Community Advisory Board which is overseeing the introduction of one of the clinics into the St. Johnsbury area.

Selectman Tod DeLaricheliere volunteered to join the St. Johnsbury board.

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