By Alan J. Keays, VT Digger
A panel charged with coming up with ways to combat the opioid crisis in Vermont has developed recommendations it will now work with others to help turn into reality.
The Governor’s Opioid Coordination Council has compiled a draft document which is expected in the next couple of weeks, with some editing changes, to become the group’s final report and recommendations to be presented to Gov. Phil Scott.
“I think we’ve come up with a strong first set of strategies,” Jolinda LaClair, the governor’s director of drug prevention policy, said this week. “In the next six to 12 months we will move from a strategy development phase to a strategy implementation phase.”
LaClair oversees the council and works with communities across Vermont on drug prevention efforts.
The 56-page draft report outlines a range of initiatives, from bolstering school and community-based substance abuse prevention efforts to increasing the number people in recovery who have housing, jobs, and needed social supports.
Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, serves as a co-chair of the 21-member council. He described the report as a “roadmap.”
“I see it as, here’s something that a really good group of people got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s try to bring these into fruition,” Gobeille said of the report and its recommendations.
The council’s recommendations in the draft report revolve around four main themes – prevention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement. “Each is essential to address this crisis, and they cannot be considered in isolation from each other,” the draft report stated.
Among the many recommendations include developing a drug prevention “messaging campaign,” providing greater access to medication-assisted treatment in Vermont’s prisons, and training all law enforcement and emergency medical services personnel likely to be near a person who may overdose on how to use Naloxone, an overdose reversing drug.
Also, the report calls for supporting efforts to step up drug trafficking investigations and pushing for the “research, development, and court admissibility of a simple, accurate and cost-effective roadside testing method for drugged driving.”
The recommendations don’t come with a price tag or cost estimates.
A great many of the proposals call for forming “working groups” with various stakeholders from both the private and public sectors to further develop the programs to fulfill the recommendations.
“I would say most if not all [of the recommendations] require planning and/or funding,” Gobeille said. “There’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit in this. This is the hard stuff.”
The working groups will look at available funding sources, from the state, federal, philanthropic, and private sectors, to help pay for those recommendations that require additional financial resources.
“The council really isn’t a budgeting thing, it’s advisory,” Gobeille said. “It’s saying, here’s things we should do, then each group or department has to go back and say, ‘What does it take to make it happen and then what is the best way to make it happen.’”
For example, in a section of the draft report dealing with recovery centers, the council’s recommendation seeks to “strengthen recovery centers, recovery coaches: ensure Vermont has a strong statewide network of recovery centers, recovery coaches, and supports, and that each regional recovery center has the capacity to deliver programs and services to individuals in recovery, their families, and loved ones.”
To help bring that initiative into action, the report states, the council “will work with the Vermont Department of Health/alcohol and drug abuse programs division and other departments of the Agency of Human Services, the Vermont Recovery Network, the Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery, and the 12 recovery centers to develop a results-based budget and program delivery system proposal for investment by March 2018.”
LaClair said the groups will also look to inventory programs that currently exist and seek to fill any gaps, as well explore opportunities to better integrate some of the programs and, where possible, seek out efficiencies.
The report also calls for building of successful initiatives already underway in Vermont, such the state’s “hub and spoke” model for addiction treatment.
The model features several large centralized clinics located around the state to assist people getting into drug treatment. Then, local medical practices and providers serve as the “spokes,” providing ongoing treatment once a person’s life has become stabilized.
“The Hub and Spoke system for treatment is recognized nationally and must be supported, assessed, and improved upon,” the report stated.
Gov. Scott created the council by executive order shortly after taking office early this year. Representatives from law enforcement, public health experts, local leaders and others serve in the group.
The report’s introduction lays out in stark terms some of the problems the council is working address.
Vermont saw 106 deaths from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, a 159 percent increase between 2010 and 2016, the report stated.
“Unfortunately, overdose deaths have continued to climb. Through September 2017, 72 Vermonters lost their lives to opioid-related overdose deaths,” according to the report. “At this rate, Vermont will again exceed last year’s record number of opioid-related deaths.”
Also, more than half, 53 percent, of the 266 children up to age 5 in Vermont custody are there due to opioid abuse issues, the report stated.
“This report builds upon the work of state agencies, a network of nonprofit and private sector providers, law enforcement, community leaders, and citizens to address this issue and sets forth a blueprint to move Vermont toward addiction recovery,” the document stated. “It is, however, a beginning, not an end.”