Editor’s note: This article by Emma Lamberton originally appeared on Vermont Watchdog.
RUTLAND, Vt. — A new substance abuse treatment program opened its doors Saturday in Rutland, marking an important step in the state’s continued fight against opioid abuse.
Rutland County has the second highest number of overdose deaths in the state, with 16 drug-related deaths in 2015. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has made the statewide battle against opioid addiction one of the keystones of his new administration.
Teen Challenge Vermont, a non-governmental addiction recovery program, announced the opening of its new enrollment office with a show of support from Eric MaGuire, director of the Department of Corrections-sponsored Sanctuary House, and Terry Burke, Rutland County chair of the Republican Party.
“We’re at war here,” said Teen Challenge Vermont Executive Director Richard Welch. “There are men on Rutland’s streets who are lonely and in pain. There’s a lot more to be done.”
Teen Challenge Vermont, which operates a year-long, live-in program in St. Johnsbury, reports long-term success rates of 41 percent, about double the 17 percent to 21 percent success rate of methadone clinics like Rutland’s West Side Center.
Of men who complete the program, 84 percent remain clean from drug use.
Mike Bouffard, director of the group’s Rutland office on West Street, is a graduate of Teen Challenge. “In 2006, I was living out of my 1998 Dodge Shadow. … Now I’m here.”
Teen Challenge has 1,200 campuses worldwide, with programs for men, women and young teens. Bouffard and the rest of Teen Challenge attribute their high success rate to the faith emphasized in the program. However, men who enter the program do not have to be Christian, and non-religious groups are ready to partner with the newcomers.
“We’re all in this together,” said Sanctuary House Director Eric MaGuire. “It’s about these men going out better than they came in.” Sanctuary House is an incarceration alternative sponsored by the Vermont Department of Corrections. Residents cost only $19,000 a year to house, while incarceration in prison averages $60,000. Residents also receive counseling to help brake the addiction cycle.
“We’re seeing hope from the level of commitment shown to this new program,” MaGuire told the crowd of almost 250 people present at the announcement. Teen Challenge announced the opening at its second annual Rutland fundraiser on Saturday, located at Rutland Area Christian School.
Faith Stone, the director of Rutland’s methadone clinic, said that while the programs have significant differences, she was open to working with Teen Challenge. “It’s important to work together because our goal is the same.”
Former Gov. Peter Shumlin brought Vermont’s opioid epidemic into the spotlight in 2014 and fully backed the creation of methadone clinics throughout the state. Affiliates of the state’s methadone project have criticized abstinence programs like Teen Challenge, however, saying relapse is more dangerous because there is no replacement.
“Medication offers an increased chance at recovery. People have a hard time doing it on their own,” Stone said. However, she added that both types of recovery programs have a place. “Recovery is a choice folks make for themselves, and they need to find the program that works best for them.”
Burke endorsed the Teen Challenge program. “We see change,” she said. “It’s unmistakable. It’s so encouraging to consider the future effect of these changed men’s testimonies in the streets, the schools, the businesses of Rutland, and even our legislators.”
Emma Lamberton was Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter.