Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy was at the Burlington offices of the state Health Department Tuesday morning to announce a federal grant to help the state respond to opioid overdoses and strengthen prevention efforts.
Vermont’s senior U.S. senator, a Democrat, is vice-chair of the Senate appropriations committee. Patrick Leahy announced that he had secured federal funding that will help the Vermont Department of Health track and respond to opioid overdoses and fatalities. “We’re announcing a $9.5 million three-year grant from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention. And with this new funding the Vermont Department of Health will be able to better analyze. They can work with other state partners to match data. And collecting and sharing such information but doing it in real time can result in critical public warnings. Now we’re not going to get rid of all these deadly drugs but we can start making sure our communities are safe from them. Today, and this is a shocking statistic, Americans are more likely to die of an opioid overdose than die in a car accident. Think about that. And rural populations like ours have been the hardest hit.”
Senator Leahy said while Vermont has done more than most states to tackle the opioid epidemic, it’s not enough. "The funding will expand the reach of prevention training statewide. So the partners in this effort include the Department of Corrections, homeless shelters, libraries, restorative justice centers and the Department of Children and Families. It’ll provide stigma training for first responders and medical providers. And importantly the funding will allow the state to work with after-school providers. You can see this is not one-size-fits-all. We’re going into all these areas. We all have to join in this. There is no one part of our government or our community that can do it by themselves.”
The Health Department plans to use part of the funds to review data of 2018 drug-related deaths and determine who had interacted with state systems. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says with the increased data they will be able to implement more prevention programs. “The thing historically that the government has funded the least is prevention work. And obviously in a crisis like an epidemic of opioid use and overdose deaths people want to work on treatment but you have to be able to think upstream in terms of prevention. I mean we live prevention at the Health Department. And anytime we can work with youth at any age in a preventive mode, anytime we can work with our partners in communities who are focused on prevention, anytime we can prevent families from breaking apart and individuals from dying of an overdose death, preventing all the circumstances that would have led to that, that’s what we live to do.”
Vermont will receive $3.2 million per year for three years. There were 110 opioid-related deaths in 2018 in Vermont, a slight increase from 2017’s 108 fatalities.