Today, a new drug policy — one that will save lives

A new law removes one more barrier to survival for people struggling with substance use disorder. Now, they can choose buprenorphine over heroin — legally.

NEWFANE — Today, Vermonters who are struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD) were given a long-awaited additional tool for survival. As of now there are no longer criminal penalties for possession of up to 224 milligrams of buprenorphine, a life-saving medication for folks with OUD.

Today, Vermont made history as the first state in the nation to enact a bill of this nature and through legislative process.

As Sen. Dick Sears Jr., D–North Bennington, said, “This is an example of the legislative process working.” This is a major win for harm reduction in Vermont and an example to the rest of the country on how we center science, data, and lived-experience experts in drug policy.

It is long past time to extract the criminal justice system from this disease. The war on drugs is over, and the drugs won! Enacting this law is not the last thing that we need to do to heal this crisis, but it is the exact course correction that we need right now.

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For those struggling with substance use disorder and their families, please choose buprenorphine over heroin if you can. If you can't, please don't use alone, use sterile syringes, and test your supply with fentanyl test strips. Go slowly, and keep more than one dose of Narcan on hand.

Above all else, please know that you are loved. You are some of the most incredible people I know and I want you here and in this fight with us!

From the moment that I stood on the courthouse steps in Burlington in 2018 during my then-campaign for governor, presenting this policy as part of my plan, I have done so in honor of my nephew Kaya Siegel and all others whom we have lost. Today, we can honor them by giving those who are still here another tool for survival!

Thank you to those champions who fought when no one was looking: State's Attorney Sarah George, Rep. Selene Colburn, State's Attorney Dennis Wygmans, Tom Dalton, Scott Pavek, Julea Larsen, and Jess Kirby. Together, we were a small but mighty force of nature.

Also, a huge shoutout to the leadership in the House and Senate, especially Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint; House Speaker Jill Krowinski; committee chairs Rep. Ann Pugh, Rep. Maxine Grad, Rep. Dick Sears Jr., and Sen. Virginia Lyons; and every legislator who made this happen. Most importantly, a shoutout to all the lived-experience experts who shared their story for no glory and no position - only to help save lives.

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Today, the governor made a statement along with his signature of this bill. While I am grateful that he signed this legislation, I am concerned that some of the information disseminated in this statement is inaccurate according to the peer-reviewed and published research that is readily available. I also remain concerned that we are not appropriately addressing the gaps in the hub-and-spoke model.

One of the most important factors considered with the passage of this bill was the very real gap in treatment that exists in Vermont. In order to address this, we have to acknowledge this massive problem. In the coming days, I will further address these concerns and welcome working with the governor to fill gaps in treatment in Vermont.

Today, I want to celebrate and thank the governor and the Legislature for removing one more barrier to survival for people struggling with substance use disorder - and encourage those struggling to choose buprenorphine over heroin. There will be no criminal penalties.

To all the families for whom it came too late, I see you, I am you. Please know that I am committed to this fight until there is not one more.

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