Brandon doctor's practice now treating opiate addicts

BRANDON — Quietly and methodically, a local medical practice has begun treating Brandon opiate addicts.

Dr. George Fjeld, Dr. John Dick and Dr. Kim Kurak at the Brandon Medical Center secured the necessary licensing and funding to prescribe the opiate treatment drug Suboxone to addicts who are existing patients within the practice.

It is a key development in the fight to help local addicts as the scourge of opiate addiction continues to blanket Vermont. It comes less than two years after the grass roots community group Brandon Cares began to tackle the issue locally.

Fjeld and Dick both attended a Brandon Cares meeting at the Town Office building Monday night and gave an update on the progress of the Suboxone treatment program.

They are currently treating 20 patients in the program with a waiting list of about 25 more, Fjeld said. The program is funded through a $325,000 Community Health Centers addiction and pain management grant shared with the Castleton Health Center under the Community Health Center of Rutland County umbrella. Fjeld said the grant helps pay for the services of licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor Amy Kittredge, who counsels the BMC Suboxone patients.

Suboxone is a medication that contains buprenorphine hydrochloride and works to reduce the symptoms of opiate dependence, but includes the ingredient naloxone to prevent misuse. It is the same drug featured in the “Hungry Heart” documentary that St. Albans Dr. Fred Holmes used with some success in treating opiate-addicted patients in Franklin County.

Fjeld said that there is other state funding available to the practice, which he hopes will lead to the hiring of a addiction psychiatrist this summer.

“It’s so we can have a comprehensive pain management and opiate abuse program,” he said. “So the ball is really stated to roll downhill and it’s really gaining momentum.”

Pain management is an integral part of any opiate addiction treatment program, as many patients became addicts after suffering an injury or condition and were prescribed opiates to ease their pain.

Fjeld said the key has been training and educating staff, and the public. Eventually, he would like to have four licensed addiction counselors on staff, but right now he is working on the education piece.

“Some of these kids I’ve known their whole lives,” Fjeld said. “They are already in your practice, so it’s just about gaining a little knowledge and decreasing your fear.”

Fjeld said that fear on behalf of both medical professionals and the public is based on the addict’s drug-seeking behavior, doing what ever it takes to score their drug of choice. But he added that that fear is unfounded.

“These people are like, ‘I want nothing to do with seeking, I just want a life, I just want to be under the radar,’” Fjeld said. “And we’re doing it, It’s happening.”

Doctors willing to treat opiate addicts with Suboxone must take an online test and become registered with the state. Prior to the BMC getting licensed and funded for a Suboxone program, Brandon addicts seeking treatment had to go to either Rutland or Bristol. Dr. Emily Glick at Bristol Internal Medicine is the Addison County source for treatment for opiate addicts. She began treating addicts in 2014.

Per state health guidelines, Glick’s practice was limited to 30 patients to start, but she began working with two other doctors and has now increased her Suboxone patient load.

Fjeld said he and his fellow BMC doctors hope to do the same, but are taking a slow and cautious approach to their Suboxone program.

“The issue we have now is, we don’t want to max ourselves out in the first few months,” he said.

Because the BMC is currently only treating patients who are already in the practice, Fjeld said patients are now transferring from other practices and then inquiring about the Suboxone program. He said he is focused on helping addicts in Brandon and surrounding towns at the moment.

“We have people who don’t leave town,” he said. “These are people who are in self- imposed recovery and getting their own Suboxone and parceling it out for themselves.”

Fjeld said communication between agencies has been a huge problem, and something his practice is tackling head-on.

“When we send people to rehab, and we call to check on them, we’re told they can’t tell us anything,” Fjeld said. “So on our consent for treatment form, there is a line that states, ‘I give consent to my care team to talk to anyone’, and they sign it. The motivation is high.”

Over the next few months, Fjeld said the program will gradually begin to take on more patients. He said BMC is getting referrals from Burlington and Rutland clinics for Brandon patients who had to travel for Suboxone treatment and can now be treated in their own town. Transportation is a huge obstacle for addicts, many of whom have had their driver’s licenses suspended for driving under the influence.

Fjeld said the overall reaction he is seeing from his Suboxone patients is one of relief.

“The thing people in the program are saying is, ‘This is such a relief. I don’t have to go looking anymore, and I don’t have to worry about getting arrested,’” Fjeld said. “It’s all on the up-and-up.”

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