Last year, Chittenden County, Vermont, was able to reduce opioid-related deaths by more than 50%. Chittenden County saw the 35 opioid-related deaths in 2017 drop to 17 opioid-related deaths in 2018. The county’s strategy was to stop opioid misuse as well as help people who continued to use opioids. As the statistics show, it seems to have worked.

Bob Bick, a local community leader, says the efforts are, “…keeping the focus on meeting the needs of those we serve, saving lives, supporting families, and strengthening our community.”

The Chittenden County Opioid Alliance has been working to increase access to drugs that help people end opioid use, such as naloxone and buprenorphine. Instead of having to wait to join a program, people are now able to receive these medications at all emergency rooms in the area. This treatment method has been key in helping prevent use and overdose deaths.

Additionally, the Howard Center began distributing fentanyl test kits to help reduce the chance of using laced drugs, which can result in an overdose. The center is also offering syringe exchange programs to give people access to clean syringes and treatment facilities. Using safety measures like test kits and syringe programs as well as providing medical assistance have helped form the county’s effective approach to battling the nation’s opioid crisis.

“It is a signal that we are capable of making real progress when we are relentless in our approach,” said the Burlington Chief of Police, Brandon del Pozo.

The county is no longer charging people for the possession of non-prescribed buprenorphine. In addition, state prisoners have access to medically assisted opioid treatment with drugs like buprenorphine, methadone and Vivitrol.

These strategies have been proven to lower opioid deaths, but can they work elsewhere?

The city of Burlington released information that explains how other communities can take steps toward reducing opioid-related deaths. The biggest requirement seems to be that community organizations must be on board with the strategies. In Chittenden County, their success was mostly made possible by community-wide support.

They urge other communities to make medicines readily available and provide people with immediate treatment. People should not be punished for seeking drugs to help with their opioid misuse, even if these drugs are not prescribed. These steps help remove the stigma of drug addiction and people with substance use disorders will be more likely to seek treatment without fear.

Though the county has seen success, del Pozo says, “We have a very long way to go before this epidemic is behind us.” However, it certainly seems like a now-proven step in the right direction.

If you or a loved one live with opioid addiction, contact The Recovery Village today. Call to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment addresses not only the addiction but any co-occurring mental health disorders. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

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