Two years ago, Governor Peter Shumlin focused his entire State of the State address to the looming opiate crisis in the Vermont area. In 2016, the opiate epidemic is still front and center at the beginning of this legislative session. In fact, State Senator Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden has openly stated that issues that related to opiate abuse and overdoses will most likely continue to be at the forefront of all upcoming legislative sessions.
“People are scared, it’s palpable,” he stated in a recent email. “People are highly concerned about their own safety and the safety of their communities. They know that people need help, but they also want to be protected.”
This email was sent out after a November community forum on opiates and crime that Sirotkin attended in Richmond. The discussion there further reinforced his feelings about the need for this epidemic to be addressed by the state of Vermont. This is one of the leading forces behind a bill that Sirotkin and Senator Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden are planning to introduce.
- 243 is a bill that will contain proposals regarding opiates and the need for increased regulation of prescription painkillers. If this bill is based, it would greatly increase the frequency of health care providers sending questions to the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System. In addition, it would create a disposal system for prescription drugs that will be available in the state while encouraging the coordination of care between doctors and increase the amount of continuing education doctors must complete when it comes to controlled substances.
While these are the issues that lawmakers can and will be focusing on this legislative session, it is important that the community continues to work together. The deputy commissioner of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs within the Department of Health, Barbara Cimaglio, has stressed the importance of community partners continuing to work on issues that cannot be written into law, including recovery plans and resources for opiate addicts.
Vermont Prescription Practices
Throughout 2015, Shumlin continuously called for tighter regulations regarding prescribing opioids. He did so because he believes that this is the starting point for many opiate addicts, information that is backed up by extensive data. He referenced data that showed that almost 70 percent of people who abuse prescriptions began their addiction in the medicine cabinets of family and friends.
Ashe feels that while Vermont has been trying to address the opiate epidemic comprehensively, there is always corrections and modifications that must be made for success. He states that they need to work with providers to eliminate the myth that the only way to reduce chronic pain is with opiates. While this is a bigger cultural issues, Ashe is adamant that is must be addressed as prescription opioids are a common precursor to heroin use.
There is also widespread support for the drug disposal program that is laid out in bill S. 243. It suggests twenty-four hour collection sites at differing law enforcement agencies, a drug pick-up program, a drug mail-back program, and a program that mixes opiates with a substance that makes them unusable by addicts.
In 2014, the federal government enacted regulations that greatly expanded the current options for drug disposal. These regulations set the framework for the S. 243 to pass, and Chen believes it will become far easier to keep opiates off the street with the expansion.
Cimaglio feels as though Vermont is moving forward when it comes to opiates, but that there is more work that needs to be done in regards to treatment and prevention. She has high hopes that the legislature’s budget will support these types of goals. She feels like the primary issue is the continuation of treatment services across the state.
During the off-season, there were grant-funded programs that offered treatment options to inmates. The program is designed to offer inmates naltrexone, an anti-addiction drug, before their release from the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, Vermont.
While there is much that still needs to be done, Chen is pleased with the current amount of progress that has been completed. Chen highlighted milestones such as medication-assisted therapy and the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System. He is optimistic about the results of this legislative session and hopes that the options will bring the community together even more.