Vermont state representatives joined advocates today to discuss ways to deal with barriers to treatment and recovery and legislation that is planned this session to address the overdose crisis.
Governor Phil Scott signed a proclamation declaring Wednesday “Recovery Day” in the state. It’s an annual effort to celebrate recovery and reduce the stigma of substance abuse disorder.
2018 gubernatorial and 2020 Lieutenant Governor candidate Brenda Siegel hosted a panel with legislators regarding addiction recovery and opioid crisis bills planned for the upcoming session. Siegel, a recovery advocate with People’s Action and Rights and Democracy, has spoken before the U.S. House of Representatives on the overdose crisis. She says opioid policy must put prioritize science and harm reduction. “We are talking about one of the urgent crises that is facing Vermonters today: the overdose crisis. There is plenty of good data that tells us we are doing it wrong and new research and stories every single day that tell us where we need to go next. We have to take this disease out of the criminal justice system. We have to put it in the hands of science. It is time to decriminalize this disease and treat it like the public health crisis it is.”
Among the Vermont House members planning to introduce legislation to address the addiction crisis is Rutland Democrat William Notte, who says societal perceptions of the opioid epidemic are evolving. "The bill that I’ll be sponsoring it prioritizes treatment. It recognizes that people in safe recovery situations are in the best place for themselves and for society at large. The smart thing to do is to allow people who are in treatment to remain there to get the help they need.”
Chittenden County Progressive/Democrat Brian Cina plans to put forward a House bill to decriminalize the use of chemical compounds found in certain plant and fungal based natural medicines such as peyote. “We need to make sure that individuals get the right assistance in their moment of need whether that be plant and fungal medicine or mental health and substance abuse services or universal housing options or economic resources. All of these things should be part of a continuum of care that meets people where they are at.”
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan blamed the addiction crisis on pharmaceutical companies overwhelming the market with opioids and noted recent settlements with those drug manufacturers and affiliates. “You think about how many Vermonters go into a doctor’s office for a minor medical procedure and they’re being prescribed these incredibly addictive drugs and their life has been ruined. Addiction is not a moral failing. It’s not a personal failing. It’s a disease. Let’s be guided by the science and the data to truly address this issue, this epidemic. I believe that people can get better. I believe in recovery. I understand the criminal justice system needs to be smaller and more flexible because a jail cell has never solved somebody’s addiction.”
The Democratic Attorney General said he could support some of the legislative initiatives but cannot support decriminalization of all drugs or the plan to decriminalize some chemical compounds in plants.