Anti-Opiate Funding Safe

Front Page / Feb. 16, 2017 9:58am EST

Gov. Scott’s Budget Eyes Drug Epidemic
By Emma Lamberton
Vermont Watchdog

Gov. Phil Scott presented a budget last month that cut spending, by consolidating programs and calling for a special election for school boards to present level-funded budgets. Still, the governor will continue to provide full funding for Vermont’s battle against opioid addiction.

He hopes that the spending ultimately will save taxpayers money.

Nationally, the U.S. taxpayer has lost over $25 billion dollars to excess health care costs due to opioid addiction. Addiction-related burdens on the criminal justice system are estimated at $5 billion, and lost workplace production is estimated at $25.5 billion.

In 2007, Vermont’s share of health care loss was over $38 million. Since then, opioid addiction in Vermont has tripled, and state taxpayers have likely suffered total losses of over $84 million dollars.

New Position Created

To continue the fight against opioid abuse started by former Gov. Peter Shumlin, Scott has created a new position in state government— Director of Drug Prevention Policy. Additionally, he has allocated $1 million in funds to a treatment hub in St. Albans, called for higher education to incorporate opioid addiction learning into classes—funded by an additional $4 million to support state colleges—and allocated $800,000 to support the increasing number of children in state care due to parental opioid abuse.

Despite its small size, Vermont has the second highest rate of babies born with opiate addiction in the nation, 33 for every 1,000.

“We now have an entire generation of young Vermonters suffering the effects of their parents’ drug use,” Scott said during his January 24 budget address. “We cannot let this go unaddressed on our watch. We must not, and we will not, fail these children.”

While Vermont has comparatively low rates of overprescribing opioids, Vermont’s heroin epidemic continues to result in these births.

Shumlin’s Fight

Vermont’s former Democrat governor brought the state’s opioid problem into the spotlight in 2014 by dedicating his entire State of the State address to the issue.

Citing a cycle of incarceration, release and drug use, Shumlin later signed legislation to give nonviolent users the chance to enter voluntary rehabilitation instead of jail. He also built new treatment centers to reduce wait times for those seeking help, and supported those centers with networks of physicians, counselors and therapists.

To help prevent access to opioids, Shumlin in 2016 signed a law limiting the amount of prescription pain killers physicians are allowed to prescribe.

That law will go into effect on July 1, 2017.

The effectiveness of Shumlin’s policy remains to be seen, as most of the initiatives are too new to produce data. The evaluation of the programs will be left to the Scott administration.

Vermont Watchdog is a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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