A formidable opponent

Conquering addiction likely means failing, and it requires patience, perseverance, and community resources

BRATTLEBORO — According to, a website dedicated to removing the stigma of addiction and mental-health matters, heroin's addictiveness “is the stuff of legend”: A full 23 percent of all those who try the drug become addicts.

The opiate “affects opioid receptors throughout the body and mimics endorphins, reducing pain and causing pleasure,” the site says. “Areas of the brain involved in reward processing and learning are stocked with tons of these opioid receptors, so when you inject heroin, you are basically training your brain to make you crave it.”

“Pair that with nasty withdrawal symptoms and high fat solubility (which allows it to get into your brain quickly), and you have the most addictive drug in the world,” the site says.

According to Brian Condon, a trained recovery coach (pathway guide) for the Turning Point Recovery Center of Windham County in Brattleboro, “relapse is part of recovery.”

Put simply, the main battle a heroin addict fights is finding the willpower to override the naturally occurring pleasure receptor messages stimulated by another opiate or an opioid.

Those cravings need to be replaced with another message: that reintroducing heroin or other opiates into the body will bring a swift return of the chaos and perhaps even brushes with death - all-too-common experiences for addicts.

For someone in recovery, each relapse can become a teaching tool to learn more about him- or herself in relation to the addiction, Condon says.

The important thing, he added, is to begin on the road to recovery again.

Many heroin addicts will tell you that one of the two most difficult parts of recovery is not losing sight of the goal even when relapsing. The stigma of being a drug addict taking drugs in medically assisted treatment (MAT) to kick a drug habit, is the other. [See main story, page A1.]

This is hardest, perhaps, on those around the addict who are struggling to maintain hope, compassion, empathy, or perhaps merely an understanding of what the addict is battling.

This gap in understanding is what leads to the alienation and stigma of the addict during his recovery, Condon and other experts say. It is the opposite of the support and empathy they need in order to regain their lives.

To provide some of that support, Turning Point maintains two centers, one in Brattleboro and the other in Springfield, and it is part of a statewide network of recovery centers.

The Springfield center was founded in 2004 in response to the health crisis with opiate addiction. As part of its mission, it provides space for a number of organizations, including 12-Step fellowships, the Springfield Restorative Justice Center, the Vermont Department of Corrections, and local mental health programs.

Condon adds that it is important for recovering addicts to recreate, socialize, and access groups in a safe and sober environment.

“Turning Point Recovery Centers are all about peer recovery - talking to and getting help from someone else who is also in recovery from addiction,” Condon said. “We are not a treatment center, and we don't offer clinical services.”

More resources coming on line

Following Governor Peter Shumlin's State of the State address in January, efforts to link resources and communities include the Governor's Community Forum on Opiate Addiction in June.

Several networking forums on opiate addiction have been held since, most recently one at Marlboro College, for health care providers and professionals. Making connections and working out the kinks in the system is the name of the game at this phase, according to recovery specialists.

In 2013, opioid addiction patients sought help at state-funded abuse-treatment locations at rates that exceed heroin patients by one third.

The increase in patients is at least partially attributed to the rolling out of the hub-and-spoke treatment system, a comprehensive strategy to address the statewide health epidemic.

That system is fully up and running now, and with more medication-assisted treatment clinics coming online this year, addicts have more resources for help, therapy, and support.

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