Amid COVID-19 crisis, overdose deaths in Vermont on path to exceed 2020 total

Health

Governor Phil Scott acknowledged International Opioid Awareness Day at his weekly briefing Tuesday, saying the state is continuing its efforts to fight the scourge of addiction.

In 2020, 157 people died from opioid-related overdose, up from 114 in 2019, according to the Vermont Department of Health. Through May, the state recorded at least 80 opioid-related deaths, compared to 60 in the first five months of 2020. More than two dozen people died from overdose in March, the highest in a single month in years.

Scott vowed Tuesday that his administration will continue to provide support to Vermonters struggling with opioid dependence. “Vermont has been a national model in working to overcome this epidemic,” he said, “but we know we need to refocus in this area because there is clearly much more to do.”

The state has also seen a rise in opioid-related ER visits this year, and first responders have distributed more than 17,000 doses of the overdose-reversal drug Narcan so far in 2021. State officials said they are increasing the distribution of Narcan and other life-saving medications. Kits are being given to motels that provide general-assistance housing, probation and parole offices and recovery centers.

Jackie Corbally, a former opioid-response coordinator for the Burlington Police Department, said 2021 could turn out to one of the most deadly years of the opioid epidemic.”

“It’s happening in Johnson. It’s happening Enosberg. It’s happening in Lowell. When you are in the throes of this addiction, location does not matter,” said Corbally. “I think the misconception is that it’s a certain population of people.”

Corbally left the police department in 2020, and is now the director of the Institute for Trauma, Recovery and Resiliency in Colchester. She said she left BPD because the department wasn’t paying enough attention to the issue. When she left, her position ended. But Acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad says he is looking add positions to address the issue.

“We’re trying to rebuild capacity in that sphere,” he said in a statement. “One of the three community support liaison (CSL) positions we’re onboarding for the city will be focused on opioid-related issues and helping people with substance use disorder.”

Staffing is a top priority for addiction treatment providers at the Howard Center’s Chittenden Clinic.

“What I think about and what so many people in this field think about is making sure that we have the resources and the staff in place to meet the community need,” said Program Director Heidi Melbostad.

Governor Phil Scott wants those who are suffering from addiction to know help is here. Currently, there are no wait lists for medically assisted treatment. Additionally, there are more than 160 distribution sites for Narcan.

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