Vermont Health Department: 2016 Was a Record Year for Opiate Deaths | Off Message

Vermont Health Department: 2016 Was a Record Year for Opiate Deaths


  • Diane Sullivan
More people died of opiate overdoses in Vermont in 2016 than any other year, according to a Vermont Department of Health report released Wednesday.

The preliminary report shows that 105 people died from opiate overdoses, up from 75 in 2015. The finding, revealed by Barbara Cimaglio, deputy health commissioner, on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" on Wednesday, confirmed Seven Days' recent report that opiates claimed a record number of Vermonters last year.

Cimaglio said that overdoses on prescription drugs such as oxycodone fell in 2016, continuing a recent trend. But heroin, which has widely varying levels of potency, and fentanyl, an opiate that can be 50 times as potent as heroin, are killing more people than ever before.

Fentanyl, a prescription drug that is also manufactured illicitly, was involved in 50 overdoses in 2016 — up from 29 in 2015 and 18 in 2014.

"Prescription drugs are more predictable. We're seeing more heroin and more illicit fentanyl, and that's contributing to more overdoses," Cimaglio said in an interview.

The record comes even though the state has spent three years focused on curbing the opiate problem. The Health Department has expanded and reorganized drug treatment programs and distributed thousands of doses of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, which is carried by most first responders and given to people without a prescription. Narcan was used to attempt to reverse 241 overdoses in the first six months of 2016.

Earlier this month, Seven Days used death certificates to report a story about who overdosed in Vermont last year, and also published profiles of some victims, who came from all walks of life.