U.S. Drug Czar Observes Vermont’s Addiction Treatment System

Jul 11, 2017

The acting head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is in Vermont this week to study the state’s response to the opioid crisis.  The nation’s “drug czar” says the Green Mountain State’s programs and efforts are models that can be emulated nationally.

Opioid related deaths are at an all-time high. In 2016, there were 106 in Vermont from heroin, fentanyl and prescription overdoses.  
Governor Phil Scott noted that even though treatment across the state is expanding, waiting lists continue to grow.  He explained that the state has adopted a hub-and-spoke infrastructure treatment system to get more people into recovery.  “Just last month we opened Vermont’s sixth treatment hub in St. Albans as part of Vermont’s hub-and-spoke treatment model.  Having the infrastructure to meet the demand for treatment is a crucial step. Over 3,000 Vermonters receive treatment in Vermont’s six hubs and another 3,500 receive ongoing treatment and recovery support through our many spokes.”

The head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy is referred to as the nation’s “drug czar.”  Acting Director Richard Baum says Vermont is one of only four states identified by the National Safety Council as making progress in opioid-related policy.  “Vermont’s hub and spoke system is being closely looked at and emulated now across the nation. By establishing opioid treatment programs as network hubs linked to local providers Vermont is expediting access to appropriate care for people with opioid use disorders. By linking these hubs with spokes providing community based primary care, mental health, recovery support and other services that people struggling with addiction need the state has created systems that support comprehensive evidence based care that integrate that care with the broader health system.”

Baum is working with the Trump administration to try to stem the addiction epidemic.  He noted that physicians and the pharmaceutical industry are key parts of that strategy.  “I hope we move to mandatory prescriber education.  We simply need doctors and dentists and other prescribers to really understand the incredible power and risk involved in prescribing opioids. And I think the marketing and promotion over the last 20 years of these powerful medications has really been excessive and it’s really put the population at risk. However I also think we have to work together to find solutions.”

Baum is particularly intrigued to see how Vermont is getting Medication Assisted Treatment to more people and how the system could work nationally.  “That’s only one part of the problem.  The other part of the problem is getting people to come forward for treatment.  People don’t always feel they need treatment.  They don’t know how to get treatment.  They don’t feel well and they’re worried about coming forward to treatment. So that’s what I’m really looking for is the way to do both those things at the same time.  Expand the capacity,  get the right treatment available but then go out and you have to make it easier for people to come forward and get the treatment they need. And I think Vermont has made more progress on that challenge than any other state in the country.”

Following his two-day visit to Vermont, Baum was set to attend the National Governor’s Association meeting in Rhode Island.  Thursday’s agenda includes a discussion on curbing the opioid epidemic.