- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

BENNINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Officials in Bennington say they expect to have a new opiate addiction treatment center open in the southwestern Vermont shire town by early in 2015.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, who traveled to Bennington on Friday for the announcement, said the center is part of the state’s new emphasis on treatment, rather than law enforcement, as the first line of defense against addiction in Vermont.

Shumlin called addiction to opiates like heroin and the prescription drug Oxycontin “the biggest threat to Vermonters’ quality of life.”

Shumlin was joined by local officials including state Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, who has a big hand in drug policy as chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Vermont Senate, and Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette.

When town officers meet someone they suspect of being an addict, they hand out “green cards,” the chief said.

“There’s simply a telephone number on here, all you do is call that number and they get you the help you need,” the Bennington Banner quoted him as saying. “It’s not just about getting a citation and going to court or going to jail. If you’re not a violent criminal you don’t belong in jail, that’s the bottom line.”

The exception would be people coming into the area from out of town to sell drugs, said Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage. “I will continue to be asking for incarceration for those individuals,” she said.

The Banner reports that the new center on Benmont avenue will be an expansion of an existing area program. It’s expected to receive about $400,000 a year in state funding.

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