MONTPELIER — While progress has been made in the state’s fight against the opioid epidemic, officials are quick to point out it’s too soon to start talking about success.
Gov. Phil Scott held a press conference Thursday at the State House to release the 2019 report from the governor’s Opioid Coordination Council. The report laid out policy and strategic recommendations to strengthen the state’s approach to addressing the opioid crisis.
“Our continued attention to this issue is so important,” Scott said. “Because nearly every one of us has felt the impact of it. It’s touched every community and every family in Vermont in some way. And if you don’t think it has, you just don’t know it yet.”
He said while sometimes progress feels elusive, Director of Drug Prevention Jolinda LaClair often reminds him to remain optimistic. Because if there is a chance for someone to get treatment then there is hope, he said.
“This attitude is how we have to approach this crisis. As I’ve said before, success will be counted one life at a time. A young man in recovery going back to work. A mother seeing life in the eyes of a child once thought lost forever. A community free from fear of crime and violence. And one less child brought into this world affected by addiction,” he said.
Going by the numbers, there wasn’t much success last year. Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced current data shows 110 Vermonters died last year after overdosing on opioids. That’s two more people than the year before. Officials noted in past years the amount of people dying from opioid overdoses had been climbing sharply, so to have a nearly-flat death total last year is improvement.
Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille said Thursday’s report focused on successful interventions.
“Meaning we’re trying to say these are steps we’re taking to reduce harm and to keep people safe and to get people into recovery and to make our communities better,” Gobeille said. “This is an epidemic that we are not successful in yet. And I want to be clear about that. This is not a let up moment or a declare success moment. … This is a full-on problem for our state and our country.”
The report, titled “Building Bridges,” makes recommendations in the areas of prevention, treatment, intervention, recovery and enforcement, including opportunities for enhanced statewide integration and collaboration. Some of those recommendations are going to be implemented over the next couple of years.
Using money obtained last year through a settlement with tobacco companies, the state will invest $800,000 to expand access to treatment for those in corrections facilities.
Starting the next fiscal year and continuing for two years after that, the state will also invest about $200,000 per year to hire staff who will provide low-barrier access to the opioid treatment drug suboxone for those in need.
In fiscal year 2020, the state will invest $200,000 per year to support a nurse home visiting program. It will also invest $200,000 per year for after school programming focusing on engaging youth while their parents are at work.
LaClair said there is always hope when someone has a substance use disorder. Every day she said residents need to talk about addiction as a disease and to talk about pathways to treatment and recovery.