by Guy Page
Vermont drug overdoses in 2020 rose 64.7% over 2019 – the highest rate of increase in the nation, according to CDC figures.
In actual numbers, reported cases of drug overdoses went from 116 to 191. Overdoses increased 31% nationwide, the CDC said.
At his August 31 press conference, Gov. Scott acknowledged Vermont’s ongoing crisis of drug overdoses, attributing the problem to pandemic isolation: “unfortunately, there is no denying that over the last year and a half, overdoses have increased. With all the stresses from COVID, barriers to treatment, businesses closing and the uncertainty of the past 18 months, people with substance use disorder have been impacted significantly.”
Vermont’s OD rates would be significantly higher were it not for the availability of Narcan, an anti-overdose drug. Praising Vermont EMTs, Scott noted that “so far this year, they have helped distribute over 17,000 doses of Narcan, which saves lives.”
According to the Vermont Health Department Dashboard, the lion’s share of 2020 Vermont deaths were opioid/fentanyl-related. Total opioid non-suicide overdoses went from 114 in 2019 to 157 in 2020; fentanyl (a powerful synthetic opioid) deaths in the same category went from 98 to 139.
Meanwhile, prosecutions for heroin distribution dropped almost in half between 2018 and 2019, the latest year in which records are available. The raw-data dashboard notes the decline in prosecutions for selling heroin (266 to 136) and possession of heroin (263 to 231).
Notes accompanying the dashboard stats explain the growing use of fentanyl, but if anything seems to contradict the raw data showing that prosecutions for both sale and possession have declined:
“According to the 2018 National Heroin Threat Assessment, authored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), heroin remains available in New England. Heroin frequently includes fentanyl which is 50-100 times more potent than heroin and which has increasingly contributed to opioid fatalities. This is a change from 2015 when most heroin use was due in part to prescription opioid abusers transitioning to heroin because of the relative affordability and accessibility of heroin, versus prescription opioids. Heroin is transported to and around Vermont through various modes of public and private transportation.”
“Due to the increased availability of heroin within Vermont, law enforcement has increased efforts to combat the threat resulting in increased arrests for possession, delivery and trafficking heroin.”
Scott made no mention of law enforcement efforts in his August 31 speech about the opioid epidemic. Instead, he said that “Vermont has been a national model in working to overcome the opioid epidemic, but we know we need to refocus in this area because there is clearly much more to do. My team” – referring to two Agency of Human Services officials – “will continue to focus on getting Vermonters the support and stability they need.”
None of the state officials mentioned the impact of 1) marijuana legalization, long linked with use of ‘heavier’ drugs; 2) failed interdiction of drug smuggling on the southern U.S. border, or 3) of China’s role as a major source of fentanyl, as reported by China expert Gordon Chang, who will be speaking at VTGrassroots events in Montpelier on Friday and Williston on Saturday.