Law enforcement down, VT opioid deaths up 47%

By Guy Page

Through August, 129 Vermonters had died of opioid overdoses – 47% higher than the three year average of 88, according to a Nov. 8 Vermont Dept. of Health report.

The total body count through August could be as high as 146, because 17 cases are marked as “pending.” March was a particularly bad month, with 26 deaths. Overall, lethal overdoses by males continue to outnumber female overdoses by almost 2-1. The number of Vermonters seeking emergency care for overdoses is almost double the three-year average. 

What is causing the surge of opioid overdose deaths?

Fentanyl. The report says fentanyl was involved in 118 of the fatalities. The super-powerful synthetic opioid is manufactured mostly in China and Mexico, and smuggled into the U.S. by drug cartels. 

The report does not delve into sociological reasons for the deadly uptick. Only one of the deaths was ruled a suicide. During the pandemic lockdown (roughly January – June), emotional and physical isolation was blamed. Reportedly, more drug users died alone in their homes, state officials said. Also, the lockdown made in-person treatment – either with drug abuse counselors or recovery groups – difficult and at times impossible. 

Criminal justice – or lack of it – is mentioned nowhere in the Nov. 8 report. However, at least three known factors may be contributing to the easy availability of deadly opioids, if not the overdose rate. 

Prosecutorial and legislative decriminalization. Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George is on record supporting decriminalization. “Drugs are not illegal because they are dangerous, but they are certainly more dangerous because they’re illegal,”George said [VTDigger, Feb. 17]. “Everything is safer when it’s legalized and regulated, and legal drugs are safer than illegal drugs.” 

With George’s endorsement, the Legislature took its first step towards decriminalization of hard drugs this year by passing H225, which “removes criminal penalties for possession of 224 milligrams or less of buprenorphine.” Also known as naloxone, buprenorphine is a prescription opioid used to treat addiction cravings. This bill is considered to be a “foot in the door” for decriminalization and legalization of even more dangerous drugs. 

Even without a prosecutorial laissez-faire approach to drug crime, the pandemic-related backlog in Vermont criminal courts is prompting prosecutors to toss out hundreds of cases of all kinds. To make matters worse, at least two county courthouses have been closed for lengthy periods of time due to reasons not related directly to the pandemic backlog, including Orleans (air quality) and Grand Isle (staffing shortage).  

Fewer cops. Vermont police staffing was tight even before the “defund the police” movement, including accusations of “systemic racism,” led scores of cops to opt for retirement rather than face aggressive prosecution, loss of legal immunity enjoyed by other public servants (including the Legislature), and a general spirit of dislike and suspicion from their employers – city and town elected officials, such as the Burlington City Council. 

Increased legal protection for young drug dealers. Gov. Scott this year vetoed a bill that would have raised the age for prosecution as an adult to 22. If this trend becomes law, drug dealers up to the age of 22 will be granted both anonymity and the generally lighter treatment accorded to youths in Vermont courts. 

(Scott also cited the State’s shortage in secure juvenile justice beds following closure of the Woodside facility – a problem underscored by the Town of Newbury’s recent rejection of a proposed replacement facility.)

Take the case of Kahliq Richardson, 18, of Rutland. Charged with homicide in connection with the April 3 shooting of Jonah Pandiani at the Quality Inn in Rutland, his defense attorney wanted Richardson, who police say was high on crack cocaine at the time of the shooting , charged in Family Court. A 2019 Vermont law gives the judge discretion to allow 18-21 year-olds to be tried as juveniles. 

Veteran Vermont crime reporter Mike Donoghue has filed a motion to have the case tried in open court. The judge agreed. Times Argus editor Steve Pappas commended Donoghue: “As we have seen, young criminals committing serious crimes in this state too frequently hide behind youthful offender status. Mike’s diligence, reporting and his advocacy for the public’s right to know, as well as this ruling, keep that need for transparency front and center. Youthful offender status needs some serious rethinking.” 

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8 replies »

  1. The CIA’s profitable Afghan opioid operation has fallen flat since Prez. Bumble’s fumbled the exit there. Most likely on purpose so that his ten percent with China’s Xi proves more profitable from the fentanyl importation…It’s been reported that the Junkies haven’t been able to find real heroin since….Like gasoline pumps, syringe packages should come with stickers on them with Bumble’s picture on them stating “I did that”.

  2. Giving opioid addicts thousands of dollars in stimulus money, another $2500 to “acclimate” out of their free hotel rooms, along with the “catch and release” of out of state drug dealers, Why wouldn’t one expect the death rate from overdoses to increase?

  3. Hmmmmm Availability is certainly way up I am reading….plus? depression is way up……[& WINTER approaches? unless you’re looking at year over year] I have seen some utterly stunning numbers re how many people are on prescription anti depressants….

  4. Let’s not forget where this all started; the local md writing those scripts which got people hooked, and snowball from there. no responsibility taken as it was the new “6th vital sign”
    fast forward to now..any network tv program will provide you now with what your ailment is and what prescription medication to ask your md for….oh and you may lose a few lbs, and ask the big pharm to help you pay…for awhile. I find it all over whelming that no one seems to look back to sources (big pharm commercials on network tv only since 1997…) of so many issues today. society so wrapped up in being on one side or another we are a little like our gov…..not working together.

    • Agree! Pharmaceutical advertising undermines the relationship patients have with their healthcare providers and puts perverse pressure on the entire healthcare industry. One thing the UK got right in healthcare (they haven’t done much right) was to ban direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads entirely.

  5. From the NY Post: “An estimated 100,306 people died nationwide from overdoses during a 12-month period ending in April — a 28.5 percent spike from 78,056 tallied in the same span a year earlier. Just four states — New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire and South Dakota — saw drug overdoses decrease, while Vermont had a nearly 70 percent rise, leading the country in the grave statistic. West Virginia and Kentucky had the next-highest increases at 62 and 54.5 percent, respectively, while New York saw a 20.4 percent hike.” Vermont leads the way in deaths and cases, hosting celebrity fugitive Alec Baldwin…we really are sinking to unbelievable lows.

  6. The combined annual incidents of opioid deaths and suicides in Vermont are on track to be as high as 350+ people for 2021. To date, Covid deaths are on track to reach 430+. The only conclusion I can draw from the statistics is to consider the proportionality of Vermont’s legislative and executive branch attention to these matters. What’s the Catch 22? More mandates will likely assure Vermonters of seeing these projections come to fruition.

  7. We can stop blaming the doctors now for hooking all those straight-A high school athletes with knee injuries on opioids. Lets’ stop kidding ourselves, the current crop of overdoses are people who made a conscious decision to use opioids recreationally, and surprise, surprise, got addicted. The main contributing factors now in producing the death toll in Vermont are cheap, chinese fentanyl coming in by the ton across our wide-open southern border and the free hotel rooms for those who claim to be homeless providing a high level of privacy and isolation. Both of these contributing factors are made possible by our caring and compassionate demoKKKrat party. For a party that so overtly condemns past eugenics practices, they sure do an effective job with promoting the naturally occurring form of it: Darwinism.

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