SPRINGFIELD — Psychiatric nurse practitioner Jim Walsh has seen a lot in 32 years of working with people with mental health and addiction issues. But he told a roomful of business representatives Friday there has been real progress in the state’s fight against opiate dependence. Walsh said the state now has a system in place, “a hub-and-spoke system” he called it, that ultimately helps the state’s addicts get the medical and mental health treatment they need. The state believes the hub-and-spoke system of treatment will attract the state’s addicts to seek treatment.
The “hubs,” he said, are treatment centers in Brattleboro, Rutland and West Lebanon, N.H., in southern Vermont, where people with heroin and prescription opioid drug addictions can get methadone, and be closely monitored for progress or problems. There are eight such hubs throughout the state, he said.
Walsh said sometimes it still takes one to two months to get someone into a treatment program, although in some cases the wait has been as short as a week.
He said he didn’t have the statistics yet to back up his “anecdotal” assessment. But he has a lot of experience.
Walsh has worked for Springfield Medical Care Systems Inc., the parent organization of Springfield Hospital, for 16 years, and before that, he worked for 16 years at the Brattleboro Retreat. He said employees with what he called “complicated situations” can present equally complicated problems for employers, who must balance federal medical privacy laws, state and federal workplace rules with the overall goal of helping people get their lives back on track. He said diversion of drugs that patients get at treatment centers remains a “big issue.” But the state is learning how to test not just for the opioids directly, but also other indicators.
Walsh ran down a list of signs and symptoms of opioid abuse, including physical, behavioral and psychological symptoms, as well as some of the side effects.
People in the 40- to 45-year age group have a very low success rate, he said, and the medical community usually has to be “very careful” with those addicts seeking treatment. Young pregnant mothers who are addicts are often very successful beating their addiction, he said. And he warned those businesses with routine drug testing that some people use methadone legally, particularly for back pain.
People should not come to work under the influence of alcohol, and neither should they come to work under the influence of marijuana, he said, medical card or not. Several businesspeople at the morning meeting at the River Valley Café at the River Valley Career Center said they were faced with employees with various drug issues, whether it was medical marijuana use or suspected drug use by people using heavy machinery.
One businesswoman said her company had a second location in Colorado and legal marijuana there posed a severe problem for their business. Bob Flint, executive director of Springfield Regional Development Corp. said the issue of drug use and abuse is one of the constant questions he’s asked about by businesses, and that’s why he set up Friday morning’s session.
“I talk to businesses every day about their needs and opportunities, and one of the challenges they face relates to substance abuse,” he said.