Top 10 stories from 2018: County, state still struggle with plague of drug addiction
Addiction to opioids, prescription painkillers and other illicit drugs has long been a problem in the Green Mountain State, as elsewhere. During this past year, efforts to soften the impact of or even prevent such addictions moved forward, at the same time that related health and law enforcement concerns arose.
The anti-addiction drug Suboxone topped the list of most-used prescriptions in Vermont’s public health insurance system in 2018, according to a report released near the end of the year. The drug is used to combat the effects of opioid dependency.
In February it was announced that a program launched in 2017 to teach Addison County teens about the dangers of opioid addiction had become so successful that it gained statewide attention and would be exported to school districts in other parts of Vermont. HELP (Heroin Epidemic Learning Program), co-created and led by Jeremy Holm and Regional Prevention Partnership Coordinator Jesse Brooks, uses volunteer experts to clearly explain, educate and enlighten students about how addiction to heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids is affecting their community.
In the same vein, the Counseling Service of Addison County and the Vermont Department of Health in October were partnering with a variety of local organizations to teach “resiliency” skills to young people, so that they can more effectively bounce back from life’s setbacks. Instilling better resiliency skills in people at an early age could help stem drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide rates later on, officials reasoned.
At Bristol Family Practice doctors became early adopters of a technology called “telemedicine,” which allows a physician in their office to see and converse with a patient at their home. One of those is Dr. Emily Glick, who was using telemedicine technology to communicate with some of her patients who were getting medically assisted treatment to wean themselves off prescription painkillers.
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch was in town in April praising a new, $3.3 billion federal commitment to fight opioid addiction. It included $1 billion funneled to a new State Opioid Response Grant program, with $4 million specifically earmarked for Vermont, and the state could compete for another $130 million reserved for rural communities to intensify services for those addicted to opioids. Welch pointed out that since opioid addiction knows no political boundaries, there was bipartisan support in Congress for the appropriation.
But even as work was done and money spent, police gave sobering testimony on the drug scene.
Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell took the local online community to task following an opiate overdose. On the department’s Facebook page the chief reported that a car drove into the Brandon Police Department parking lot and a frantic female driver told police that someone in her car was overdosing. Police found the 26-year-old man slumped over in the passenger seat.
“His lips were blue,” Brickell wrote. “He groaned once and stopped breathing.”
The man did not respond to two doses of Narcan, a drug used by first responders that blocks the effects of opioids, but after a third he revived. Some of those responding to the Facebook post showed little sympathy, and even antagonism, for the man who overdosed. Brickell explained that addiction was an illness and first responders would continue to use Narcan to fight that illness.
Also over the summer police were anxious about the new law that on July 1 made possession of a small amount of marijuana legal in Vermont, saying ambiguities could make enforcement and prosecution more difficult. For one, the law still made it illegal to possess an “open container” or marijuana in a car or to possess a “mature” marijuana plant, but was hazy on the definition of those terms. Also, police were forced into making judgments about driving under the influence of marijuana, and they worried about more impaired drivers on the roads.
By year’s end, a new health threat that’s gaining alarming traction with children throughout the country began to come to the fore here in Addison County: e-cigarettes, which produce an aerosol vapor — containing nicotine and other chemicals — that smokers inhale. Infused with exotic flavors ranging from mango to crème brulée, e-cigarettes are giving young users the false impression they are engaging in a harmless alternative to conventional tobacco smoking. In reality, they’re plying their bodies with large doses of super-addictive nicotine known to be particularly detrimental to the developing brain.
“This is an addiction, and kids don’t realize what it does,” said Brooke Jette, prevention specialist for Middlebury Union High School, which has seen a major uptick this year in students’ use of e-cigarettes. And vaping, as it is called, has become popular among all socio-economic groups at school.
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