Vermont has seen more deaths due to opioid abuse than in a typical year, and some Vermonters say its a tragic consequence of government lockdowns.
“It’s been reported that opioid overdose deaths are up again approaching the 2017 levels, and it is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rep. Joseph “Chip” Troiano, D-Stannard, told True North.
The state estimates that overdose deaths are up 25% for 2020 compared to the previous three years. Over the past 12 months, opioid deaths rose from 82 as of September 2019 to 109 as of September 2020.
Troiano, who has been confined at home after a recent surgery, said he understands how people experience “some mental impact as far as not being able to get outside and get about and move about in society.”
In addition to being a state lawmaker and Vietnam veteran, the Democrat lawmaker has worked with opioid addiction treatment during his years as a public defender. He says that the state’s capacity to help these folks should remain strong.
“Vermont has in general been a pretty safe place as far as this pandemic goes,” he said. “But I think the numbers right now are disturbing to both the governor, and to myself, and it’s really hard to say. I think a reduction in new cases and hospitalizations would certainly drive the opening of the spigot as the governor calls it.
“I think he’s [Gov. Phil Scott] as ready as anyone not to shut more businesses down, and possibly to open some businesses up. It’s a fine line and I generally come down on the side of public safety.”
Elsewhere in the nation, other lawmakers are sounding the alarm that opioid use is on the rise as shutdowns force people to stay at home.
“There’s no doubt that we were starting to get the opioid crisis somewhat under control and now, it’s just mushroomed again across this great country,” Congressman John Katko, R-New York, said.
On social media, some Vermonters have expressed their concerns about the impact of lockdowns on those struggling with drug addiction.
Scott Pavek, an activist against opioid addiction and a candidate this year for Vermont House in the Chittenden 6-5 district, tweeted in frustration that lawmakers aren’t spending more resources on this issue.
It doesn't make me "mean" to point out that Democratic leadership, very specifically, has failed Vermont in many areas of health/justice. The overdose crisis is just one glaring example. But legislative leadership has been completely absent as of late. People are dying. #vtpoli
— Don't take this seriously (@RSPavek) December 2, 2020
Philip Stetson commented that there was apparently an uptick in overdose activity correlating with the onset of the shutdowns.
— Philip Stetson (@prstets) October 26, 2020
Brenda Siegel, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, also mentioned the overdose crisis as a priority.
Yaaasss Peter!@GovPhilScott, I will trade you your Xmas lights for meaningful progress on poverty, climate change, mental health, health care, racial justice & the overdose crisis. All issues that you have given us almost nothing on.
— Brenda Siegel for Vermont (@BrendaForVT) December 2, 2020
In national opioid-related headlines, Purdue Pharma which is best known for its opioid drug OxyContin, pleaded guilty recently to three federal criminal charges dealing with its role in perpetuating the nation’s opioid crisis. Part of this effort was led by Vermont’s U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, who led an investigation in a kickback scheme aimed at increasing opioid prescriptions for Purdue.