Vermont Opioids Epidemic - Urgent Action Is Needed

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We are lucky to call Colchester our home. The town is well-managed and staffed by skilled professionals. We have top-tier schools, dedicated teachers and our police, fire and rescue services are the envy of the state. Unfortunately, we have not been immune to the Opioid crisis and the wider mental health and substance addiction problems that have ravaged Vermont communities in recent years.

Despite recent efforts, accidental and undetermined deaths from drug overdoses have not shown significant declines in Vermont. These entirely preventable deaths are a tragic loss that far too many Vermont families and communities are being forced to bear. In addition, not captured by any measured statistic is the life-altering devastation and seemingly endless sense of helplessness felt by so many families affected by addiction and mental health disorders.

The State of Vermont has a compelling interest to solve this problem, and we are way past the point where a band-aid solution could be effective. The patchwork of mental health, substance abuse treatment and recovery programs is not adequate.

We can do much better and we must.

What can we do?

I propose immediate action in the following areas:

— We need criminal justice reform. The scientific evidence is irrefutable that the susceptibility for Opiate addiction has a significant genetic factor. Through no fault of their own, some people are simply far more prone to become addicted to Opiates and other psychoactive substances than others. It is an immoral and shameful failure of our society that we treat addiction as a criminal offense instead of addressing the complex medical, physiological and psychological problems that invariably underlie it. Nobody wants the hellish life of drug addiction, and no one should be punished for the rest of their lives for falling prey to it. Let's have some compassion and spend more of our corrections money on rehabilitation. We can help people get back to fulfilling, productive lives instead of being stuck in the downward spiral of addiction. It is not only the moral thing to do, it's also the right choice for the economy.

— We need a newly restructured state-wide system of diagnosis, treatment and recovery that is geared specifically towards mental health and substance abuse. Families are not getting the professional help they need.

— I would support legislation that establishes stiffer penalties for drug traffickers in Vermont. Vermont has become a target for dealers from New York City and other hubs due to our known leniency on offenders - even multiple repeat offenders. We need to send the clear, unambiguous message that if you traffick drugs to Vermont, you will be caught and punished harshly.

— We should provide support and funding for the excellent Vermont Certified Recovery Coach program. With prerequisites met, this training program should be offered at no cost to any person willing to offer demonstrated support in their community. The more able counselors and coaches we have in our communities, the earlier we can identify problems and intervene.

The best cure is always prevention. I would support legislation that offers incentives to towns to enhance prevention programs and provide more recreational opportunities for our youth. Strong communities with engaged parents, teachers, and physically active, busy kids who see bright futures ahead of them are going to be much more resilient.

But it is fanciful to think that legislation alone is going to fix this problem — it is not. We need to be brave enough to recognize that what we have been doing is not working. This plague has not appeared out of thin air. We need to accept our role and do better as a community, as parents and as friends and neighbors. Our children deserve the best shot we can give them at a rewarding, fulfilling drug-free future.