Vermont saw a record number of fatal opiate overdoses in 2017, making it the third straight year the grim milestone has been reset, according to recently released state Health Department data.
Vermont registered 107 non-suicide fatal overdoses in 2017, up from 106 in 2016 and 75 in 2015.
Health Department data make clear that the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate many times more powerful than heroin, has been a major driver of the problem.
Two-thirds of the fatalities in 2017 involved fentanyl, up from 50 percent in 2016, according to the department. The number of opiate overdose fatalities involving fentanyl in Vermont has nearly quadrupled since 2014.
Meanwhile, fatal overdoses that involved heroin and prescription drugs fell in 2017, though many people overdose with a mixture of drugs in their system.
While experts are alarmed at the new record, Health Department deputy commissioner Tracy Dolan said that they are encouraged that the rate of the increase is slowing.
"It continues to be, obviously, a very high priority public health issue," Dolan said. "We do see an increase, but we think we're shrinking that increase and ... beginning to bend the curve."
The average age of people who died from accidental or undetermined overdose was 39, according to the department. Men comprised 71 percent of the Vermonters who died.