Vermont Receives $9.5 Million Federal Grant to Battle Opioid Crisis | Off Message

Vermont Receives $9.5 Million Federal Grant to Battle Opioid Crisis


U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine
A $9.5 million federal grant will help Vermont expand efforts to track and prevent opioid-related overdoses, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday.

Leahy, flanked by Levine, announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant at the Vermont Health Department in Burlington.

Vermont has faced up to the challenge better than other rural areas, Leahy said, "but more needs to be done."

"I think we all know that the opioid crisis is the most complex public health challenge of our time," Levine said. Over the past five years, Vermont has built a strong intervention, prevention and treatment infrastructure, he continued.

"But there's much more we can do to turn what we know, data, into life-saving action," the state's health commissioner said.

The new funding will help Vermont better understand trends, share data and send out early warnings if one community is inundated with an especially lethal batch of fentanyl or heroin, Leahy said. He vowed to keep working in Washington, D.C., to help Vermont get the resources it needs to address the opioid problem.
The grant will be disbursed over three years to numerous programs, some already in place and some new, Levine said.

Vermont will use the money to collect and report emergency room data on suspected and confirmed drug overdoses, and track how people who die of overdoses may have interacted with state prevention or treatment services.

Grant funds will also help implement pharmacy audit rules designed to improve the accuracy of data in the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System and to fund overdose prevention programs statewide, including at correctional facilities, homeless warming shelters and even libraries.

Also to be funded: A social media campaign designed to address Vermont's high rates of substance use during pregnancy. 
Community organizations in Bennington, Rutland, Windham and Windsor counties will receive community action grants to prevent and address the high overdose statistics in their regions.

Despite Vermont's efforts, opioid-related deaths statewide totaled 110 in 2018, up slightly from 108 the year before.

Levine acknowledged the numbers and said Vermont should not put its head in the sand about the continuing death toll. But he believes the trend could be at a "plateau" and said that the state is making progress on other metrics.

He pointed to success in reducing opioid prescribing, for example.
Leahy said that without the steps Vermont has taken so far, the number of fatal overdoses would be worse. "These numbers would be much, much higher," he said.

But Leahy, too, acknowledged the scale of the challenge. The senator said he and his wife, Marcelle Leahy, a nurse, hear from people all over the state about the opioid problem. 

"We hear it in the grocery store, we hear it coming out of church. I even hear it pumping gas in my car," Leahy said. "It is a major, major issue."