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Burlington Laboratories Opens Downtown Storefront for Walk-in Drug Testing

Local Matters


Published July 2, 2008 at 5:34 a.m.

Never let it be said that the Church Street Marketplace doesn't have it all: food, fashion, books, housewares, live music and, now, on-demand drug testing.

Burlington Laboratories, Vermont's only certified on-site drug-testing facility, has opened a storefront on Pearl Street in downtown Burlington. Late last year, the lab began welcoming walk-in customers, such as parents who are concerned their kids may be "using." That's in addition to the lab's usual clientele of recovering alcoholics and addicts who've been referred by doctors, counselors, treatment facilities and law enforcement.

The lab's owners, Jodie and Mike Casarico, say their mission is to support Vermont's substance-abuse treatment centers, most of which are in Chittenden County, by freeing up staff from the hassles of collecting and processing urine for analysis. Unlike other facilities, Burlington Labs does nearly all of its own testing on-site, and offers full-service, same-day results.

"Every case manager in these agencies feels like they have a very, very full plate," said Mike Casarico, the company's president, who is a licensed drug and alcohol counselor.

In the past, local drug-treatment centers, such as Crossroads in Essex Junction and Maple Leaf Farm in Underhill, had to ship their lab samples out of state. They often waited as long as three weeks for the results. Today, Casarico says, Burlington Labs will go to those facilities, collect the specimens themselves, process all the paperwork and get the results back within a few hours. (Under Vermont law, employment-based drug screening can only be done at nationally certified labs outside the state, although Burlington Labs does "collections" for those, too.)

For $25, a person can be tested for seven different drugs. A full-spectrum scan for 12 different controlled substances, including amphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, THC, methadone and oxycodone, runs $45. BL's lab techs also look for commonly used "adulterants," such as ammonia, water and flush kits that are sometimes used to conceal drug use. The lab can also run two tests for the presence of alcohol, including one that detects its presence up to three days after consumption. Results are kept confidential, and positive specimens are never labeled in a way that identifies them as "dirty."

"A lot of these places have found that up to 30 percent of their clients were drinking their entire time [in treatment]," Casarico says. "And since most of these programs are abstinence-based, this has become a huge treatment issue."

By any measure, drug testing is a growth industry, especially in Vermont, which leads the nation in so-called "opiate-replacement therapies," i.e., the use of drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine, which block the opiate receptors in the brain. Each week, Burlington Laboratories performs between 5000 and 7000 tests on as many as 500 different specimens.

The bulk of the company's business comes from opiate addiction, although Jodie Casarico points out that most of the lab's clients are on the path to recovery. They include parents who are trying to regain visitation or custody rights of their children, and parolees who need to prove they're clean and sober.

Bill Young, who runs Maple Leaf Farm, has nothing but high praise for Burlington Laboratories and calls it "a key part of our team." As one of the oldest residential treatment centers in the country, Maple Leaf has served about 13,000 residents of Chittenden County alone. But with a limited number of treatment beds in the state, Young said it's critical that they offer those spots to people who are serious about their recovery. "If we have someone who's using," he said, "we need to know right away."

People might see a storefront drug-testing lab on Church Street as a depressing sign of the times. Mike Casarico views it as a sign of hope. "For a person who's trying to recover from drug addiction," he said, "knowing that they're going to be drug-tested can help support them to say 'no.'"