Vermont streamlines process for substance abuse counselors

The state has streamlined the process for someone to become a substance abuse counselor as it continues to address the opioid addiction crisis, Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday.

The changes simplify the educational requirements and relieve professionals from unnecessary documentation, officials said. The new rules also are mostly compatible with other states' rules so out-of-state clinicians can work in Vermont, they said.

"Getting the opioid crisis right is a matter of life and death. It's life and death," said Kurt White, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor with the Brattleboro Retreat, a mental health and addictions treatment center in Brattleboro. "And this administrative rule helps us to do that because it helps us to increase access to treatment for those who need it."

While state officials didn't know how many more alcohol and drug abuse counselors were needed, Scott said estimates suggest 100 to 200. The state has 693 such counselors, including apprentice addiction professionals, alcohol and drug counselors and licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

The changes would make it easier to become any of those professionals without compromising quality, officials said.

The move came after Scott asked the Governor's Opioid Coordination Council to review the state's mental health and drug and alcohol addiction laws and a summit was held in April on the substance abuse workforce.

While Scott announced in September that the state has improved its access to opiate addiction treatment, including eliminating the waiting list for treatment in Chittenden County, the state's most populous county, he said more treatment is needed.

"We believe the crisis is growing. I don't believe that we've identified all those who ... need treatment, are seeking treatment, so we believe that opening the door, having this available to more Vermonters, is the answer," he said Monday.

When someone with an addiction reaches out for help, the response must be quick, said Jena Trombley, head of human resources at the Clara Martin Center, a provider of acute and long-term behavioral health services in Randolph.

"If we don't have a credentialed workforce our ability to effectively respond to clients' needs is compromised," she said. "When that happens prospective clients often return to using substances and may not seek help again for a long time. These changes are going to help that significantly."