Scott signs law expanding overdose prevention efforts

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 1:42 PM EDT|Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 5:28 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Governor Phil Scott Thursday signed into law a bill intended to address the epidemic of overdose deaths plaguing the state. The $8 million measure, among other things, expands access to overdose reversal drugs like Narcan.

The Vermont Department of Health reported 237 deaths from opioid overdoses last year, breaking the state’s record for the third year in a row. And of the 42 total opioid deaths documented through the first two months of this year, 29% of them involved the animal tranquilizer xylazine, and 12% involved gabapentin.

“The nature of the drug supply is so toxic and lethal and unconstrained at this point in time,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

“I’m in long-term recovery myself and I cannot imagine still being actively using in today’s world. It’s absolutely terrifying to see the drugs and what they’ve become,” said Crystal Bolio with Jenna’s House, a community support center in Johnson.

Fentanyl was involved in 93% of overdose deaths last year in Vermont. Although fentanyl overdoses can be reversed with Narcan, officials say chemical additives like xylazine - also called tranq - are complicating the already-difficult process of providing drug users with life-saving resources.

“It’s rare that one dose of Narcan will do the job. It often takes multiple doses. And because there is so much mixed in with the narcotics and fentanyl, like xylazine, the fact is, there may need to be other interventions, like beginning rescue breathing, calling 911, and having the person brought to the hospital quickly,” Levine said.

To combat this, the new overdose prevention law contains more than $8 million in funding allocated from major settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributors. Almost $2 million of that is dedicated for the broader distribution of Narcan.

“We’ll have even more doses than we’re using now -- which is already an astronomical number of doses -- we’re trying to flood communities with at this point in time,” Levine said.

Those in the drug recovery field say that even though Narcan might not be as potent, it’s still an essential tool when trying to save lives. “Even though Narcan is, you know, not proving as effective as it was in the beginning of this crisis, we still are seeing that opioids are mixed in with almost everything. If you have somebody that’s having a health crisis, it’s not going to hurt them to try Narcan,” Crystal said.

“We certainly do believe that it’s a good idea for people to have multiple doses of Narcan, multiple boxes of Narcan even. You never know when you’re going to be called to save somebody’s life,” added Daniel Franklin with Jenna’s House.

Under the new law, health officials will also be establishing new ways of distributing Narcan, through things like lock boxes and vending machines placed at accessible locations across the state.

The money will also be used to launch drug-checking services and break down barriers to receiving treatment such as wait times and transportation.

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