Fighting drug addiction in Vermont

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BRATTLEBORO — Daniel Franklin grew up in Guilford, a community he described as always eager to give back. Now he has opened the new Phoenix Diagnostics Lab in Chittenden County. The lab is one of a few in Vermont. It offers testing for drugs and alcohol and, Franklin said, is a tool for change within Vermont.

Franklin himself is involved in a couple of boards dedicated to making positive change within Vermont. He's a part of the Vermont Changemakers Table and the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance.

"Vermont is in many ways a leader in terms of our approach to the opioid epidemic," Franklin said.

The state has been assigned a few pilot programs by the federal government; it also is a leader in resources to fight the opioid crisis, Franklin said. Chittenden County has reduced its waiting times, provided more patient beds, and increased Narcan access. However, these resources seem to only be accessible in more metropolitan areas, Franklin said.

"People cannot get access to the specific services they need," he said. "Many counties still have waiting lists."

One of the pilot programs Franklin is currently involved with is new methods to detect fentanyl before people take drugs. Fentanyl is a highly addictive pain medication that can be deadly or when not taken as prescribed, according to MedlinePlus.gov.

"It's a 100 times more potent than heroin," Franklin said. "There are drugs out there that are incredibly deadly. Drugs that even for first responders, being exposed to them by the skin can be a dangerous thing."

Drugs like fentanyl are one of the leading causes of overdoses in Vermont, Franklin said.

The pilot program would give people the ability to home test drugs — such as heroin and cocaine — for drugs like fentanyl. While Phoenix Diagnostics isn't offering these tests, Franklin said the company is involved in a lot of discussions about different programs and how to reduce diseases.

Though Phoenix Diagnostics is focused in northern Vermont, Franklin said it was able to talk to stakeholders such as local politicians, to raise awareness about drug issues and treatment throughout the state.

"We're working together to come up with solutions and act," Franklin said. "It means bringing together police and fire personnel and rescue service and doctors and independent substance abuse clinicians and a number of other providers."

For Franklin, substance use disorder relates to a ton of other issues that communities struggle with, "whether it be domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, trauma, depression and so many others."

Franklin credits his dedication to assisting in drug treatment to growing up in Guilford.

"My family and community instilled in me a sense of service," he said. "Being active and taking action, that's just who we are in Guilford."

Franklin said many of his peers took action through church or their schools. "I always wanted to make a difference and help people," he said.

He wants to be an inspiration to other people who come from small communities like Guilford.

"No matter where you come from, no matter how small your town is, no matter what your background is, you can make a difference," he said.

In fact, Franklin said that coming from a place like Guilford gave him more opportunity. Every change was more visible in a small community. It was easier for him to see the ripple effect.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 153. Or follow her @birchharmony.

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