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Facts Matter: Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, Makes Opioid Settlement Recommendations within Legal, Statutory Authority

February 16, 2024

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, was inappropriately smeared this week without any consultation with State statute to verify the facts. In January, Dr. Levine acted on his authority to make recommendations to the Legislature as part of Governor Scott’s budget recommendation on how to spend $4.9 million in funds available through an opioid settlement.

State statute requires the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee “to provide advice and recommendations regarding remediation spending from the Opioid Abatement Special Fund,” and identify spending priorities related to “opioid use disorder prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery services and harm reduction strategies for the purpose of advising the Governor, the Department of Health and the General Assembly on prioritizing spending…” The statute appropriately designates the Department of Health as the State lead agency and single point of contact with the national settlement fund administrator. The statute also requires the Department of Health to submit a spending plan “informed by the recommendations of the Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee” as part of its annual budget submission.

The statutory process, which leaves budgetary decisions in the hands of the Department of Health, was clearly followed. The budget recommendation was “informed by” the Committee’s recommendations. Dr. Levine’s spending recommendations to the Legislature are each aligned with the priorities put forward by the Settlement Committee. One Committee recommendation was excluded, which Dr. Levine transparently disclosed in his January 16 letter to the Legislature’s Appropriations Chairs and was provided to the Settlement Committee in advance. “One of the highest tier priority recommendations from the committee that does not appear in this letter is for the funding of two overdose prevention sites,” he stated, elaborating on his reasoning. He instead recommended the $2.6 million for additional Committee priorities, including expanding established, effective school prevention programs and support for students, re-entry and recovery services for those at high-risk of relapse, and harm reduction and care services through local providers.

Despite the false accusations, the law does not limit Dr. Levine’s discretion in making his final recommendations to the Governor for his budget proposal or to the Legislature.

State law was clearly followed, proper professional discretion was used, and the change to the Committee recommendations, which were discussed in public session in accordance with the Open Meeting law, was transparently disclosed.

“Dr. Levine is a committed public servant who has dedicated his skills and expertise to public service. He has always acted in good faith and made these recommendations well within his authority under state law and followed through on his obligations to the Committee, my Administration, and – most importantly – to Vermonters. He cares deeply about preventing the tragic loss of life from the opioid epidemic and will continue to work to find solutions from all sides of this issue,” said Governor Phil Scott.

“To see Legislative leadership hurl even more accusations at Dr. Levine, who demonstrated his integrity daily during the pandemic, is disheartening. But uncivil treatment of my secretaries and commissioners in this Legislature has unfortunately become increasingly common. We can have policy disagreements without hurling unfounded accusations and demeaning insults,” added Governor Scott.