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New drug testing site in Rutland~ RH April 12, 2015

New drug testing site in Rutland
By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli
RH Staff Writer | April 12, 2015

Burlington Labs got its start in 2006 in a 200-square-foot office at the top of Church Street in Burlington after co-founder Michael Casarico, who worked in probation and parole at the time, wanted to right an injustice.

“We cashed in our 401(k)s, took a second mortgage on our house,” Casarico said. “And after about a year of struggling, we were down to barely money to pay our mortgage, things turned around.”

And little by little, the small drug testing lab grew from one office to two and kept spreading. Today, Burlington Labs spans seven states.

Still headquartered in Burlington, they now have nine walk-in collection sites around Vermont, including one in Barre, Bennington, Middlebury, Springfield, and a Rutland location at 10 Merchants Row, which opened April 1.

Before the lab idea took shape, Casarico worked with probation and parole where they did random drug screens. One of his clients was screened as part of his conditions of release. At the time it was common to use the dip stick method, much like an over-the-counter pregnancy test, to screen for the presence of alcohol or other drugs. But the technology was not sophisticated or accurate and the client tested positive for cocaine despite his protestations to the contrary. “I was forced to send him to jail while we waited for a confirmation test,” Casarico said. “It came back two weeks later and it confirmed he had not used drugs. That man spent two weeks in jail unjustly, he lost his job, he got behind on his rent and he couldn’t see his child. That’s when the idea for the lab was born.”

Initially, with no employees, Casarico and co-founder Nancy Casarico (he’s her husband), personally collected the specimens, ran the drug tests, reviewed the results, created the reports and billed insurance companies.

A walk-in collection site is convenient and confidential and supports treatment centers, drug courts and Department of Corrections needs. Individuals can be referred or go in for testing on their own. While they accept several forms of insurance, individuals can also pay the $35 for a basic screen.

“If someone does not have insurance, we send a bill, but it is our policy to never turn it over to collections,” said Nancy Brooks, the lab’s marketing manager.

Michael Casarico calls it compassionate billing. “We are required to bill, but many people in addiction owe thousands of dollars … we don’t want to ruin their credit.”

The labs provide basic and advanced drug screens for particular substances. And the Casaricos say that if you do drug testing it must be random and observed.

“Some people in addiction go to great lengths to hide it, using someone else’s urine or adding water,” Michael Casarico said. “We do everything we can to make our collection practices the best. A mother may get to see her child if we do.”

Additionally, the Casaricos are committed to giving back to the community.

“When we finally made our first $100 profit, we gave $10 to the Burlington food bank,” he said. And the 10 percent tithing to the community remains.

The labs are not just about drug testing, they are interested in promoting recovery. Michael Casarico has been in recovery for 20 years and several employees are also in recovery.

“We’re not just about testing, we are about helping the whole person and maintaining sobriety,” said Tae DeGray, the community outreach supervisor. “We hire a lot of people in recovery; they totally understand who walks through the door.”

DeGray explained that Burlington Labs works in partnership with several community organizations to help with substance abuse issues and a new pilot program in Burlington, which was DeGray’s idea, helps transport people for free to treatment or AA meetings. “We found that a common barrier was transportation.”

DeGray said she is certain this pilot program will expand to Rutland in the future.

The Rutland location is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. (they close between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. for lunch). No appointment is necessary.

kathleen.phalentomaselli @rutlandherald.com

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