Eight months after she was hired, Buncombe County Health Director Vicki Ittel has announced that she will resign March 28. She is stepping down to set up a clinic that will focus on treating substance abuse, specifically addiction to prescription pain killers.
“This is a really amazing opportunity,” Ittel told Xpress about the clinic, which she plans to open with three other physicians. “This is a pressing issue. We’ll be using a dual approach of mental health and medical treatment. There’s a breakthrough treatment called Suboxone that can be administered at a doctor’s office, but there’s not really much access to it in this area.”
She added that the ease and effectiveness of administering Suboxone makes it ideal for treating the symptoms of opiate addiction, unlike older methods, such as methadone.
Hired last August to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of longtime Health Director George Bond, Ittel said that while her tenure in the position was short, she felt progress has been made on her primary goal: increasing access to health care.
“We now have 30 same-day appointments available [at the health center]; that means that a lot of people don’t have to wait,” Ittel said. “We accomplished that through some re-engineering and reorganization of how we did things.”
She also touted the department’s cooperation with Western North Carolina Health Services to provide dental care to the uninsured and Medicare recipients, but said that her successor will face many of the same challenges.
“We have more people coming into Buncombe every day, and more uninsured,” she said. “It’s the same problem of figuring out how to do more and more with the same resources.”