Alcoholism and fentanyl top concerns at governor’s press conference on addiction

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

IN THE STREET: Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used in pain relief, can be found in all different street drugs, and special tests are needed to help identify it.

BERLIN, Vt. — Gov. Phil Scott has once again turned to drug abuse and addiction as the primary subject of his press conference on Wednesday, which was held outside the Central Vermont Medical Center.

Rising alcoholism and the continued prevalence of fentanyl were two issues of concern addressed by various experts in attendance alongside the governor.

Dr. Javad Mashkuri, who specializes in emergency medicine for the Central Vermont Medical Center, said calls to support services concerning alcohol abuse outpaced those regarding opioid abuse by a 2-to-1 ratio during the first year after COVID-19 arrived.

“In the last year we were looking at some of the Vermont HelpLink data, and we saw that during the pandemic … 2-to-1 were calls for alcohol issues over opioid issues. So this past year we are creating a hub/spoke model for alcohol use,” he said.

The support services are improving, Mashkuri added.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Phil Scott speaking at his weekly press conference

“Ten years ago if you came to an emergency room and you were intoxicated and in withdrawal and struggling and wanted help, a lot of times you got maybe a judgmental glance from a nurse or a doctor or a PA,” Mashkuri said, “And you kind of got a lecture about how bad this stuff was for you and it makes your mom cry and your dad upset and your wife leave you. And then we gave them as their treatment — if they were not in any kind of medical emergency — something called ‘the list.'”

In the past, this “list” was a notification of the local treatment services available, and that’s where the hospital’s intervention would usually end.

“Half the phone numbers were defunct or out of service,” Mashkuri said.

The governor started the conference by talking about some of the investments his administration is making to help Vermonters fighting addiction.

“Just this year we’ve invested nearly $9 million more to address substance-use disorder here in Vermont,” Scott said.

He clarified again that he will support law enforcement efforts in their role in mitigating the illicit drug trades.

“It’s clear there is an important role for enforcement to cut off supplies and to stop those who pray on our youth,” Scott said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine warns about fentanyl

State Health Commissioner Mark Levine spoke warned about the prevalence of fentanyl in street drugs. But first he commented on how the onset of COVID-19 and the various restrictions that came with it contributed to a reversal of the progress that the state was making regarding addictions.

“Before the pandemic, Vermont had been making steady progress in slowing the rate of opioid-related deaths,” Levine said. “But, tragically, COVID-19 quickly reversed those trends as many faced isolation, anxiety and other changes to their support systems.”

He shared some concerning data released in April on increasing opioid deaths: Vermont’s opioid-related deaths increased 34.5% from 158 deaths in 2020 to 215 in 2021, the highest number ever seen in the state.

Levine said that he would like to see this trend reversed.

“Our focus is to continue to restore the state-wide network and safety nets that had us bending the curve on substance abuse and overdoses,” he said. “… The state is providing $8.7 million to support and grow enhanced capacity and the provision of innovative substance abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout the state.

Levine also warned about the continued prevalence of Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid known to be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and it continues to be found in street drugs sole in Vermont.

“We continue to find fentanyl at the heart of so many incidents of accidental overdoses,” he said. “In 2021 it was involved in 93% of opioid-related fatal overdoses. The Heath Department worked to help prevent and reverse overdoses by supporting the distribution of over 40,000 doses of naloxone Narcan, and more than 83,000 fentynal test strips to our community partners to provide to individuals.”

Other addiction experts weigh in

Melanie Sheehan, the co-chair of the Vermont Substance Misuse Prevention Oversight & Advisory Council, and the Regional Prevention Program Manager at Mt. Ascutney Hospital also spoke.

Sheehan said that for the first time now state dollars are going directly to prevention efforts, whereas in previous years money had gone indirectly through institutions for this effort.

“These investments will help stabilize the prevention infrastructure across the state,” she said. “This means that regardless of the presence of a prevention organization working directly in a home town, every community will experience prevention strategies.”

Anna Tempesta Noonan, the president and chief operating officer of the University of Vermont Health Network, also spoke.

“CVMC is proud to have helped found the Central Vermont Prevention Coalition,” she said. “A group of over 25 organizations in our region all dedicated to developing innovative collaborative approaches to treatment and support to those who need it.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Office of the Governor

6 thoughts on “Alcoholism and fentanyl top concerns at governor’s press conference on addiction

  1. I am tired of hearing about “how tough life is today” and that is the reason people choose to self medicate with recreational drugs. If you have been born or are currently living in the US of A, you have won the lottery of life. People have ALWAYS used mind altering substances. What has changed is the lethality of the drugs, and that is the result of cheap chinese fentanyl and it’s precursors coming in through our WIDE OPEN southern border, thanks to the Biden/democrat policies of “compassion”. We can stop blaming the doctors now for hooking all those straight-A high school athletes with knee injuries on opioids, since prescription painkillers are now regulated to the point of seriously inconveniencing those patients who really need them. The current crop of overdoses are people who made a conscious decision to use opioids recreationally, and surprise, surprise, got addicted. The Vermont taxpayers already cough up enough money accommodating junkies who have made bad choices in life. Stop treating these people as helpless victims…they made their own bed.

  2. I remember Bernie’s speech clearly opening up this big can of worms that the opioid addiction is..
    And how many years ago was that?
    How much money has been blown [stolen] on fighting this? and clearly we can see how successful this has been.. the people making the money off it are wildly successful though.. how interesting.

    Perhaps it’s time to really fix this and not just take the money and pretend you are fixing something.

  3. A lot of the deaths from these drugs are Deaths of Despair. And why is this not being owned by the state?
    A whole lot of these people that are addicted to drugs and alcohol are self medicating- at least initially.

    Life is so hard today and depressing.. there is little hope out or upward for just so many people today.
    I bet many of you don’t even know how many ELDERLY people are hooked on these drugs and alcohol.
    We talk about the failure that schools are today all the time.. so don’t we think that all these people that are not even smart enough to navigate life to success are going to be impacted?
    You think they don’t know this about themselves?
    A whole lot of “support services” are nothing but money robbing scams.

    Why does no one ever approach the addiction problem by simply recognizing the fact that life has been made to be so hard today that many people are not even wired or equipped to survive it.
    And what does that all say about the government in control?
    I’d say that it’s a total failure if this many people are desiring to check out everyday.

  4. You don’t reach this level of illegal drug importation without government officials being paid off.

  5. Would somebody clue this low information governor in? The fentanyl is coming in over open borders!!! Open Borders!! Down on our southern borders! ( the guy is clueless…probably thinks I’m talking northern borders, he’s that dumb.). Your left wing pals down in DC are keeping it open for the drug trade. Just think, the stuff is made in China and brought in through open borders. Hunter is an addict. Hunter has business ties with the Chinese. Democrats are keeping the border open. The Big Guy gets 10%. Seems plausible to me.

  6. Phil steps in his own poop, again…because he’s a “Biden-Buddy” and on the wrong side of facts & truth…the devastation of illegal Fentanly:

    “Illicit fentanyl is now primarily made in Mexico from precursors manufactured in China, and then trafficked across the southern land border….The Drug Enforcement Administration warned of a “nationwide spike” in mass fentanyl overdoses and has said the drug is killing Americans at an “unprecedented rate.”…“What you don’t hear from the Biden administration is that 95% of the fentanyl killing Americans comes from the wide-open southwest border, …How many more people have to die before we say enough is enough and secure our borders?”

    Way to go, Phil…you have fealty & blind support to Biden – a wide open border. The fentanyl largely comes into VT from out of state drug Mules, and they are largely….Black…some Hispanics. They then have their network in place here, which will then include some local White dealers…but still many Blacks…Which is maybe why the VT prison population is about 24% Blacks, while VT only has about a 1% Black population?. Biden-Boy-Phil?… Black Lives Matter? What about Vermont lives? OOOPS! VT is almost all “white”!…so who cares…all of VT is racist anyway, right?…so you won’t do anything to Black drug dealers, and mules…even though the police know all about every one of them. . The rest of the Gov’s “PR Piece” was just “mushy Pablum”….a weeny-on-display. Act like Trump! Hit back hard. CLOSE BORDERS, Phil! STOP Fentanly from getting here…or from suppliers (black) in Boston, Springfield (MA), Hartford and NYC. You will hide, Phll, but sooner or later you will have to admit it – Trump was & is, right.

Comments are closed.