Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott and members of his Administration, the Opioid Coordination Council and the Legislature today welcomed family members of Vermonters who’ve died as a result of an opioid overdose to commemorate Vermont’s second annual Opioid Overdose Awareness Day.
Addressing the families at Wednesday’s event, Scott said, “Opioid addition affects so many lives, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the courage and leadership of those joining us here today to share their stories in an effort to help others and make a difference. You demonstrate why we must continue this battle against an epidemic that’s impacted every corner of our state.”
State officials at the event, including Scott, Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, Director of Drug Prevention Policy Jolinda LaClair, Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson, Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and Rep. Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington), addressed the opioid crisis and the state’s work towards effective prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery supports.
They were joined by four community members – Vermonters working on the frontlines of the crisis and those who have been impacted, including individuals who have been in recovery or whose family members have been directly affected. The event sought to highlight the dangers of overdose and share the stories of those impacted.
Speakers stressed that while it appears we may be beginning to bend the curve on what has been an upward spiral of opioid-related fatalities in Vermont, heroin-related deaths are still too high.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD said Vermont’s comprehensive approach to prevention can make “if only” a reality. “For many, we can’t turn back the clock. I wish we could,” said Dr. Levine. “But, we are implementing prevention policies and strategies that will help future generations avoid developing opioid use disorders in the first place.”
As an example, Dr. Levine noted that Vermont’s new rules governing opioid prescribing and the education and conversations that now routinely occur in the health care setting have contributed to a 25-35 percent decrease in morphine equivalent prescriptions since July.
Attendees at the event were able to review information and speak with health professionals on issues such as prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery. Exhibitors providing informational materials included Aspenti Health, Vermont CARES, and the Vermont Department of Health’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs.
The Department of Libraries was on hand to inform Vermonters on the materials and services available at Vermont’s libraries to help individuals and communities dealing with the Opioid Crisis, and the Howard Center Safe Recovery offered those in need with naloxone (a nasal spray used to reverse an opioid overdose in progress) distribution and training.
“Only a collaborative approach including state leaders, treatment providers, school and community-based prevention programs, first responders and the involvement of Vermonters with lived experience – people in recovery and their families and loved ones – will alter the generational cycle of addiction,” said LaClair. “Vermont is small and smart, and we can effect change for our children, and grandchildren, and their children.”
Governor Scott also commended the work of the state’s many partners, lawmakers, municipalities, as well as Vermont’s congressional delegation – Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch – who have played an important role in securing Federal funding and supports to address this epidemic.