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November 23rd, 2017

Vermont’s Opiate Addiction Crisis

Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley, co-hosts of “Vote for Vermont”, were joined by Vermont’s Director of Drug Prevention Policy, Jolinda LaClair on a recent show. Jolinda, a 35-year public service career veteran, serving with Congressman Jeffords’ Office, as Director of USDA Rural Development, and as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

In his second executive order, Governor Scott established the Opioid Coordination Council. The Council is charged with ensuring full inter-agency and intra-agency coordination between state and local governments with specific focus on the areas of prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement activities.

With LaClair at the helm, the Council’s 22 members represent multiple sectors from the areas of prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement, and including education and intervention. With focus on children adversely affected by opioids, the Council unanimously agrees that education surrounding opioid use and misuse must start early.

Through expert presentations and testimony, the Opioid Coordination Council has explored a variety of topics that could begin to address Vermont’s opioid crisis. LaClair discussed some of the topics the Council has explored, including the broader utilization of alternative approaches to treating pain, including yoga, massage and acupuncture. They also have learned about the value of recovery coaches, often individuals in long-term recovery themselves, who have proven to be very successful support. Another area of focus is Vermont’s 2-1-1 helpline, the best resource for any Vermonter looking for crisis help and services.

As a result of the Governor’s Summit on the Substance Use Disorder Workforce in April, The Opioid Coordination Council has successfully facilitated collaboration between higher education, employers, and the Office of Professional Regulation to begin to address staffing shortages and difficulty in licensure and professional development opportunities in the substance use disorder workforce. The Governor has announced the emergency filing of new administrative rules that maintain high statutory standards of competence while eliminating unnecessary barriers to those entering these professions. These changes are expected to achieve swift results in helping qualified individuals to achieve licensure to practice in Vermont.

Other efforts by the Council to raise public awareness include an Opioid Overdose Awareness Day last April at the State House. At this event, and local forums across Vermont, people share their personal stories of lived experience – in recovery, as first responders, and as family members. These stories impact all in attendance. Many think of their experience (past and present) every day. Calls for specific service supports for those in recovery, and further opportunity to share their stories, were identified as strengths in their personal recovery journey.

LaClair took this moment to encourage Vermonters to view the documentary “The Hungry Heart” by Bess O’Brien which “provides an intimate look at the often-hidden world of prescription drug addiction…and shines a light on the healing power of conversation and the need for connection that many young addict yearn for but do not have in their lives.”

The President’s Commission on Combating Drugs, chaired by Governor Chris Christie, focuses heavily on the importance of treatment. Another area LaClair says Vermont is doing quite well is the Hub and Spoke treatment model, which was enacted in 2012 and has achieved national recognition as it has expand to reach all of Vermont. LaClair believes the Council will continue to approach focus areas with the goal of improving and strengthening the existing systems, rather than “reinvent the wheel.”

LaClair stressed the importance of education for employers and the public. In order to defeat the stigma of addiction, the culture surrounding it must change. A primary objective of the Council has been to bridge the gap between employment, recovery and prevention. It is with the support of these communities that a shift in the culture and stigma against those battling substance use disorders will occur.

At the conclusion of the show, Ben and Pat committed themselves to the work the Opioid Coordination Council is pushing forward and will use Vote for Vermont as a platform to pursue further related topics.

Note: Vermont’s Drug Prevention Director, Jolinda LaClair, discussed lots of issues and topics. If you would like to see the show, please go to vote802.com for a complete listing of Vote for Vermont shows or our YouTube channel.

The comments reflected in this article are opinions stated by our guests. Any rebuttals are welcome and can be expressed on the websites and Facebook pages of VFV and CFV.

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