By Neal P. Goswami VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | July 07, 2015
MONTPELIER — two of the state’s top elected officials announced a $12.4 million federal grant to help Vermont combat prescription drug abuse, marijuana use and underage drinking.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and Gov. Peter Shumlin, both Democrats, held a State House news conference Monday to announce the five-year grant funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It will help Vermont expand its Regional Prevention Partnership program from six sites to 12 across the entire state.
Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped the state establish the first six partnership programs in six counties with a $3.6 million grant that expires this fall. The new $12.4 million grant will continue funding for the sites in Windham, Rutland, Windsor, Washington, Lamoille and Chittenden counties. Also, it will provide funding for new sites in the towns of Bennington, Springfield, Middlebury, St. Albans, Newport and St. Johnsbury.
“Prevention is a key component if we’re going to change the course. This $12 million grant in our state of Vermont is a well-deserved recognition … that our state is leading the way and makes this Vermonter very, very proud,” Leahy said Monday.
The grant will allow the Vermont Department of Health to provide comprehensive prevention services at the regional level across the state and in every county, focusing on Vermonters who are between the ages of 12 and 25.
“To break the cycle, we know that prevention must start early, years before a person begins the risky behaviors that can lead to addiction, overdose or even death,” Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen said. “We know that we must take a public health approach. We must apply our collective efforts at the community, regional, state and national level in order for that to occur.”
Chen said there is some evidence to suggest that the state’s efforts to prevent addiction and substance abuse in younger Vermonters is working. He said the latest survey conducted by the Vermont Health Department showed lower rates of binge drinking and less marijuana and opioid use.
Leahy said he hopes Vermont’s efforts will become a national model. He said he has worked to make preventing substance abuse a priority in both the Senate Appropriations and Judiciary Committees on which he serves.
“One of the things I’ve heard everywhere I’ve gone … is that we’re all in this together. There is no magic bullet. We all have to be involved and we have to reach people at earlier ages than ever before,” he said. “I tell the members of the Appropriations Committee it’s a lot less expensive, it’s far more productive, and it’s better for society if we prevent substance abuse on the front end instead of all the problems we have at the back end.”
Leahy thanked Shumlin for devoting his entire State of the State address in January 2014 to the issue of opioid abuse, and the impact it has on Vermonters. Shumlin called for dealing with the issue as a public health crisis rather than a law enforcement issue.
Shumlin says that since then, the state has boosted treatment options and 1,000 more Vermonters are receiving treatment for opioid abuse. The state has also dispensed 2,000 rescue kits to first responders and others, which have saved about 200 Vermonters from overdosing.
Still, an annual report released by the Department for Children and Families last week shows that opioid abuse continues to grow. According to the DCF report, 800 more child abuse cases where substance abuse was a factor were reported in 2014 over 2013. Shumlin and others said Monday that shining a light on the problem is likely to lead to more cases in the short-term, but fewer addicts in the long-term.
“Mission accomplished? No. A lot more work to do? You bet,” he said. “We’ve got a long road ahead. We’re making real progress. This grant is a huge step forward for Vermont.”
Shumlin said the grant announced Monday will allow local communities to address addiction problems in a way that makes sense for them.
“This $12.4 million is going to allow us to partner with the communities that want to help so badly, that want to get this right. They know that the answer in Windham County might not be the same as the answer for Rutland County,” Shumlin said. “Senator Leahy got us the first six centers, the resources for that, some years ago. This allows us … to get to all of the rest of the state.”