Group is addressing addiction crisis in Vermont

ADDSION COUNTY — After Gov. Peter Shumlin’s 2014 State of the State Address drew attention to the state’s heroin and opiate addiction crisis, local and statewide groups throughout Vermont have worked tirelessly to tackle the crisis. 
One of the many organizations that grew out of this multilevel effort to confront drug addiction in the state is the Addison County Committee on Opiate Addiction. The committee focuses its work on increasing access to treatment opportunities, performing educational outreach and changing prescription procedures in order to best serve the interests of individuals within the community at the local level.
The core of the committee’s current work is raising awareness of the problem and addressing the issue of stigma. Building awareness of the drug addiction (especially at the individual level) is an important step in tackling the drug crisis, according to committee member Moira Cook, who said addiction is more widespread than many people know. 
“It happens to anybody,” said Cook, who is the district director for the Vermont Department of Health’s Local Health Division in Middlebury.
Cook has worked with the committee since its inception in 2014 and has seen it through its initial stages of focusing on access to treatment to its present shift toward education and prevention. 
The committee works with Turning Point Center, Porter Hospital and Counseling Services of Addison County to provide greater access to treatment. Thanks to the efforts of the committee, among other groups, the treatment capacity in Addison County has increased substantially along with access to treatment facilities over the past two years. 
In addition to its work in providing greater access to treatment, the Addison County Committee on Opiate Addiction has begun to shift its focus toward education, outreach and prevention. While the committee continues to work with pharmacies to increase communication about the potential addiction of prescription drugs and promoting safe disposal of these drugs, it also tries to reach out to members of the community who may not be directly exposed to the risk of addiction. 
Outreach is an important start to addressing the stigma surrounding addiction so that those who suffer from addiction or who have family members going through addiction can take the first steps towards treatment and healing, according to Cook. 
“Addiction is a disease you don’t realize until you have it,” she said. 
The outreach effort launched alongside the committee’s website, www.addictionhelpvt.com, in 2015, and since then, members of the committee have hosted community talks, visited high school health classes and worked with pharmacies to prevent the misuse of prescription drugs.
Now, the committee has paired up with CSAC to put together a series of articles for publication in the Addison Independent to raise awareness of drug addition. 
“We’re getting a good response on our website and a good response from the community partners we’ve worked with in educational outreach. With this series, we’re looking for another way to get the word out and reach even more people in the community,” said Cook. 
The first of the series, titled “What is Addiction?,” is published as a Community Forum on the Addison Independent website here. Seven more Community Forum’s from the Addison County Committee on Opiate Addiction will also appear in that space over the coming weeks.

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