Legislative update: Vermont makes progress on opioids

By Senator Michael Sirotkin, Chittenden County

Last November, on a cold weekday night, I was truly moved by the more than 100 Richmond residents who attended a community meeting on the growing heroin problem in their town. They were both troubled and angry at the increase in related crime in Richmond and Chittenden County, while at the same time were compassionate about the need for greater treatment and prevention.

It prompted me, along with Senator Ashe, to introduce an omnibus bill (S.243) to combat opiate addiction, which, I can thankfully report, was signed into law last month. I am also proud to report that Vermont has now been nationally recognized as one of only four states to make significant progress in confronting the challenge of opioid addiction and overdosing.
In a startling report released June 23, the National Safety Council shows that 28 states are failing their residents by lacking a comprehensive, proven plan to eliminate prescription opioid overdoses. The report “Prescription Nation 2016”, (www.nsc.org/RxDrugOverdoseDocuments/Prescription-Nation-2016-American-Drug-Epidemic.pdf), sets forth a definitive ranking of how states are tackling the worst drug crisis in recorded U.S. history, and assigned a “Making Progress” rating to only four states: Vermont, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Tennessee.

After exhaustive evaluations of the data and research into prevention strategies, the council identified six key actions that could have immediate and sustained impact, and the states were ranked based on their efforts in these areas:

Requiring continued medical education for prescribers
Adopting opioid prescribing guidelines
Passing legislation that eliminates “pill mills”
Expanding use of prescription drug monitoring programs
Allowing overdose reversal drug naloxone to be prescribed with a standing order
Closing the treatment gap by increasing access to buprenorphine

Our new law touches upon virtually all of these, enhancing many efforts begun in the last few years. It also does much more, such as putting meaningful resources into community grant programs to support local opioid prevention strategies, which can certainly assist local efforts in Richmond and other Chittenden County towns, and also funds alternative pain treatments as well as a no-charge statewide take back program for the disposal of unused drugs.

Finally, I am pleased to report, that many of the new initiatives in our bill will be paid for by the pharmaceutical industry—the very same folks who profited greatly from the extensive and excessive prescribing of opiates such as oxycontin, as we were able to more than double our current state fees on drug manufacturers. Thanks to Senator Lyons for her help in seeing these new funds be appropriately directed towards combating opiate abuse.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at sirotkin.senate@gmail.com with questions or concerns on S. 243 or any other legislative matter.