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Town Hall In Burlington Assesses Regional Status Of Opioid Crisis

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger hosts an Opioid Town Hall in Contois Auditorium
Burlington Mayor's office
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger hosts an Opioid Town Hall in Contois Auditorium

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger hosted an opioid Town Hall this week, bringing in national and regional experts to discuss the epidemic and update residents on the city’s efforts to stem it.
The last community forum on the opioid crisis in Burlington was about two years ago. Mayor Miro Weinberger felt it was a good time to update residents on what has happened since.  “We continue to lose way too many of our co-workers, our friends, our neighbors, our children. At the same time I think it’s important that we recognize that the story of this epidemic is starting to change and there is some hopeful news coming out of this region and other parts of the country.”

For the first hour a trio of national experts provided a national perspective on the crisis. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Vice Dean and Professor Dr. Josh Sharfstein explained why many are addressing the opioid crisis as a public health issue.  “You have to think about meaningful outcomes that matter for people and you’re trying to reduce the pain and suffering that communities are feeling. And that means you’re looking at overdose deaths. You’re looking at the number of people who can put their lives back together, take control of their lives again, go back to work, put their families together, all the things that really are meaningful and you’re not distracted by maybe preconceptions or stigma.”

Mayor Weinberger feels Burlington’s turning point began in 2015 when Police Chief Brandon del Pozo was sworn in and subsequently issued a report that led to a coordinated effort to confront the crisis.  “What has come out of the local effort I believe is perhaps the most robust constellation of interventions of any community in America and we are hopeful that the results that we saw in 2018 where accidental overdose deaths dropped by 50 percent in Chittenden County can continue. At the same time we know our work is far from done.”

A question and answer period was held following a panel discussion with local partners from CommunityStat, which meets regularly to address the crisis.  Several individuals felt officials have not been aggressive enough in their approach to the crisis.
“Hi my name is Philip Pezeshki. I’m a licensed alcohol and drug counselor in South Burlington and also a licensed clinical mental health counselor. I worked for 4 years in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility doing substance abuse counseling and I quickly learned that I was not doing substance abuse counseling I was doing trauma counseling. I really salute all the efforts that all of you and many of the people in the room have been doing about intervening at the drug and pharmaceutical level. But I’m afraid that that’s a bandaid and it’s not going to really ultimately address the underlying problems.”

“Hi my name is Miss Jackie Robertson. I have a failed hip replacement. I’m the other side of the story here. People that have chronic pain are no longer being able to get access to anything opiate based.”

Vermont Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine responded.  “This story is not an uncommon one. There’s an increasing medical literature looking at the fact that there is a cadre of people who have been maintained on opioids for chronic pain and seem to be suffering from, if I could use such a strong term, abandonment. We cannot condone abandonment. We need to approach each individual with the sensitivity and compassion they deserve.”

Audio from Burlington’s Opioid Town Hall is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.