Opening of the first peer recovery center in the Champlain Islands

Opening of the first peer recovery center in the Champlain Islands

A memorial to those who died from opioids adorns a wall at the Turning Point Center in Rutland in April 2021. The organization’s new office in Alburgh aims to bring peer services closer to home for islanders with limited access to transport. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

An organization in St. Albans has opened the first dedicated office in the Lake Champlain Islands to provide peer recovery and harm reduction services to people with substance use disorders.

Turning Point of the new Franklin County office in Alburgh — the northernmost town in Grand Isle County — opened in late May at the city’s federally-licensed health center.

The centre, run by the Northern Tier Center for Health, offers drug treatment for people with substance use disorders, among other programs, according to Hannah Rose, who runs Alburgh’s Turning Point office.

Previously, Islanders had little or no access to peer-based recovery services in or near their hometown, according to Rose. The North Hero resident herself has been in recovery for almost four decades after consuming methamphetamine.

To get Turning Point services, people had to drive up to an hour each way to hubs in Burlington or St. Albans.

“Transportation is a major obstacle for many people on the islands. We also have a lot of farmers and a self-sufficient, hardworking culture,” Rose wrote in an email. “Our hope is that having an office in Alburgh will make it easier for people to find support.”

The only regular public transportation to the islands is a round-trip Green Mountain Transit bus line that runs once a day, Monday through Friday, between Alburgh and Georgia. Its route does not pass through any of the other four towns in Grand Isle County.

The Alburgh office is open Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It hosts in-person and virtual support groups – one for individuals and one for families and friends. Rose said individual services are also available for people who want more privacy.

The services are free and the information is kept highly confidential, she said.

Turning Point also has offices in the towns of Richford and Enosburgh in Franklin County, in addition to its headquarters in St. Albans. The Richford site opened in February.

United Way of Northwest Vermont provided full funding for the Alburgh office — $32,500 — about half of which came from donors and the other half from a state grant.

“Now more than ever, we need to break down the barriers and end the stigma that keeps people affected by substance use disorders – including families – from accessing help,” Jesse said. Bridges, CEO of the South Burlington organization, in a statement.

Bridges was referring to the record number of Vermonters — 210 — who died of an opioid overdose last year.

Josie Henry, chairman of the Alburgh Selectboard, said she knows “a fair number of people” in town who already travel to St. Albans for Turning Point services. As word continues about the new facility, Henry said she believes local people will use it.

When social service providers come to Alburgh to work with residents, she says, the only public building available for meetings is often the library, where there isn’t much privacy. Henry is glad locals can now work with Turning Point at the health center, which is a more suitable setting, she said.

“We’re very happy they’ve settled here,” Henry said.

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