NEWFANE — It starts with educating ourselves, becoming literate in the disease, and using best practices to end it.
We are raising a generation of kids for whom it is normal to lose people to overdose - so normal that they have rituals for when their friends die. A generation of parents are losing their children.
We have a responsibility to act.
In Vermont, we have the opportunity to implement model policies that will increase awareness about the need to fund harm-reduction services and organizations.
Such programs provide education, counseling, referrals, and support to people at risk of overdose. These services are an essential ingredient to health and recovery for people who use drugs - particularly those outside of the treatment system.
In Vermont, while the increase in heroin-related deaths slowed between 2016 and 2017, the actual number of deaths increased and did not decline. Deaths from fentanyl (up to 100 times more potent than morphine and heroin and far more deadly) increased by almost one third in the last year and more than doubled since 2015, according to the Department of Health.
Harm reduction, such as safe injection sites and clean-needle exchanges, reduces these deaths and provides access to services that may lead to treatment and help with issues of dual diagnosis and trauma.
We can create and pass legislation that prevents people from being penalized for getting treatment. We want this population to get clean and reduce harm because that reduces collateral damage on our communities.
We can require that treatment centers place patients with adequate alternatives if they suddenly close. We must acknowledge that it is a nearly impossible for people who are addicted to stop using opiates, and we can not leave this vulnerable population to fend for themselves.
Regardless of how you feel about the disease itself, it does not serve our communities to do anything less than everything we can to stop this epidemic.
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We can have drug courts in every county. The prosecutors' offices are asking for funding to do so, and we need to make sure that happens.
Every prosecutor, judge, and officer across the state can be required to be trained and literate in the disease, and we can create a model training that takes into account the information that we now know to be true about treatment. We can abandon old ideologies on how addiction and treatment works and use the updated information to make policy.
We can make sure health insurance covers long-term treatment. We can attract or create good long-term treatment facilities based on models that we know work, based on the programs at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota or other outstanding facilities. We know treatment has to be well rounded and create a sense of self. We can follow those models
We can make sure people have access to life-saving drugs like Suboxone and other medication that relates to their mental illness, whether or not they are in prison.
We can pass the current legislation being considered in our state and even strengthen the language to allow for paid family and medical leave so that families are able to take the time that they need to take care of their loved ones and get the support that they need. Nationally, we need this legislation; we can pass it right here in this state. It is essential to the successful end to this epidemic.
And we can use our knowledge that prison is not a solution. This population gets out and is back on the street - using, stealing, and dying. How long will it take us to move away from this model?
The goal should be helping people stay alive and stopping the crime.
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Regardless of your opinion or belief, we have good evidence that what we are doing is not working. Our best chance at safe communities and raising children who don't experience the death of their friends with great frequency is to follow best practices that lead to people having the tools to get clean or reduce the harm of their use.
We know this; we don't have another direction. The old way isn't working. It is time to change it.
We can end the stigma related to this disease and work on the solution. Life expectancy of our children just went down for the second year in a row due to opioids and gun death.
Our children are dying. We have no choice but to do better. We owe it to them.
What will you do today to end this epidemic?