August 14, 2013

Opiate Addiction in Vermont – What can we do?

Posted in Board of Trustees Spotlight, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, United Way tagged , , , , , , , , , at 3:41 pm by Lund

On Wednesday August 7th the United Way of Chittenden County sponsored a viewing of a short documentary film titled “The Opiate Effect” followed by a panel presentation and community discussion about opiate and heroin addiction in Vermont.  The film is a powerful and educational document weaving the experience of a family who lost a son/brother to a heroin overdose; the testimony of three young people who lost everything they valued—friends, family, jobs, school, respect—to addiction to opiates and heroin; and a fictional young man who stands on the precipice of misuse of a prescription opioid medication.  Viewers will be brought to tears by the pain and anguish caused by use of and addiction to opioids—whether the legally produced opioid medications or the illegal and highly toxic heroin. The film is brutally clear that any use of heroin and any misuse of opioid medications is bound to result in tragedy and significant loss.  No one has power over these substances!

Image courtesy of Baitong 333 at

Image courtesy of Baitong 333/

The panel hammered home the startling prevalence of heroin in Chittenden County and all of Vermont and the appalling ease of access to prescription opioid medications.  U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin, Burlington Police Chief Michael Shirling and Spectrum Youth and Family Services Associate Executive Director Annie Ramniceanu revealed the frightening level of crime associated with the distribution of heroin and opioid medications.  Violent crimes, thefts, prostitution are all primarily connected to the illegal distribution of heroin and opioid products.   Also speaking on the panel were Bob Bick, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services at the Howard Center, Mary Alice McKenzie of the Boys and Girls Club and Dr Carlos Pino, Medical Director of the Fletcher Allen Center for Pain Medicine.    All of the qualified and compassionate panelists presented their own take on the problem but all could agree on three essential steps towards a solution:

1.  Prevention – Start with children when they are young and provide a really good prevention program that is directly responsive to their needs.   Recognize how pervasive and quotidian this problem is for children and understand that a blanket “Drugs Are Bad”   approach is just not enough.

2.  Treatment on demand – Those who are ready to get help with their addiction should not have to wait six or eight months to get the help that they need. There are currently 832 people on the waiting list for treatment at the Howard Center.

3.  Swift and severe justice – The words that Police Chief Schirling used to describe how punishment for drug dealers ought to be.

What can we do about it?  The panel exhorted community members to become educated and get involved in raising awareness and combating misuse of opioid medications and any use of heroin.  All panel members echoed the need for community—every citizen—response to the problem. One easy but powerful step every one of us can take is to hide or lock-up any opioid medications we may have in our houses.  The number one source, by far, for prescription medicines that are found and misused by teens and others, is our own medicine cabinets.  Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percoset, and generic opioids are commonly found in medicine cabinets in family homes.  Lock these medicines up! Discard them on “Take-Back Days” sponsored by law enforcement agencies!

Lund is a community and state leader in helping young people combat use and addiction to drugs.  Without the kind of help that Lund provides to help young women address substance abuse problems and build resilient lives, many more young people would be lost to addiction and crime.

Written by Will Rowe, Lund Board of Trustees.

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for sharing about this move “The Opiate Effect” I will pass this information along, keep up the good fight and work God bless.

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