Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders held a student town meeting at Burlington High School late last week to discuss the addiction and opioid crisis.
Nearly 1,100 students gathered in the high school auditorium to hear from the state’s junior U.S. senator, the state’s attorney general, a physician and a woman in recovery. The comments from the panel were open to the media but due to the nature of the topic and age of the participants, the question and answer period was off the record.
Sanders told the students he gathered everyone in the auditorium because he is worried. “I am worried. Your parents and your grandchildren are worried. The governor and the state legislature are worried and many of you are worried about an epidemic, an epidemic that is sweeping our country and sweeping the state of Vermont. And that of course is the very significant increase that we are seeing in opioid and heroin addiction and in fatal drug overdoses.”
The Senator told the teens that he sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, which deals with health care and education issues. “We hear from some of the smartest and most knowledgeable people in the United States of America and in fact from all over the world. But on this issue, opioid and heroin addiction, the issue of why so many young people are turning to drugs and how we can prevent that it turns out that you probably know a lot more than the experts. So after this panel is finished I need your help not only for Vermont but for the entire country.”
Vermonter Kelly Breeyear shared her experience of falling into addiction and struggling to get into recovery. “We need your help to find a solution. We need to stop this now. I, I don’t want any of you have to feel the pain that my family has felt, that my daughter and my son have felt. I urge you if you have ever been asked to try an opiate, for whatever reason, even your doctor, please be careful. You have a choice now. But after you have it in your system you might not have a choice ever again.”
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan talked about attending Burlington High School. He remembered past classmates and how the addiction crisis has touched their lives. “Nothing like heroin, nothing like opiates was even in the zone of possibility when I was growing up. And one guy in particular, he was the fullback on our team, we lost touch. And then out of the blue I got this random message from him. He was having trouble and he asked me for help. And I could tell from the message that it was a message of desperation. And you know what I did? I didn’t do anything. I thought like a lawyer. Time went on. Then, I don’t know whether it was weeks or months later, he od’d. Died. Heroin overdose. And if you went back 25 years and we were sitting in this gym together we’d be sitting side by side. This addiction, yes, it kills people. We know that for a fact. But it kills people’s souls.”
According to Senator Sanders’ office more than 60,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the U.S. last year, including 112 in Vermont. Narcan was used on more than 2,200 Vermonters to reverse overdoses.