Sustained effort needed to beat opioid deaths, suicide

What part of Vermont had the highest rates of suicides and opioid deaths last year? Answer: Lamoille County.

Experts believe the increases statewide in suicide and opioid overdoses can be attributed to the isolation caused by the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, however, suicide and overdoses were serious problems. Vermont’s recent suicide rate was triple the national rate. Additionally, Vermont’s rate of overdoses leads the country.

I am excited that Gov. Phil Scott is recommending $16 million in his budget to help address these challenges, with $3.5 million aimed at preventing overdoses and another $4.5 million supporting housing and residential treatment. It was especially heartwarming to see $500,000 recommended to support services through Jenna’s House in Johnson.

We have learned that if people enter treatment only to leave it without a strong after-care system of support they can painfully fall back into dangerous situations. Treatment without housing, peer support or employment is not a therapeutic dose.

Our recovery centers are called upon to help support people on their road to recovery. For many, they can be the glue that holds things together.

The network of recovery centers is not targeted for wage increases in the governor’s budget, unfortunately. They are asked on the one hand to take on more duties in addition to the important work they do every day, yet without more support. Over the last five years, the only increases for recovery centers have come from occasional one-time funds made available by the Legislature. This pattern of neglect for key community-based providers is damaging our capacity to address this public health crisis.
Scott has recommended another $8 million beyond the $8 million for substance abuse, to be appropriated to the Vermont Department of Mental Health to implement a prevention strategy to address suicide. Included in the efforts are four regional mobile response teams that will work with families and children before they reach dire straits and help them from spiraling out of control.

Considering our suicide helpline receives an average of 245 calls a month, we need all hands-on deck to help address this growing problem.

David Yacovone, a Democrat from Morrisville, also represents Elmore, Woodbury and Worcester in the Vermont House.