Drug Use: Vermont problems, Vermont solutions

Op-Ed piece: Approx 605 words

Submitted: August 17, 2004

By Barbara Cimaglio

Recent news accounts about the latest National Survey on Drugs and Health told Vermonters what we already knew: We’ve got a sizeable drug problem here.

In fact, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Vermont has one of the highest rates of drug use in the nation.

The report, which was based on a 2002 survey and was consistent with earlier surveys, came as no surprise. Five years ago, 4,500 Vermonters came to the state-sponsored services seeking treatment for substance abuse problems. By last year, that annual number had grown to 7,741.

The Douglas Administration has implemented a comprehensive prevention and treatment strategy, and committed substantial resources to implement community-based programs. The Administration has gathered together scattered programs throughout state government and added major new initiatives in an integrated approach. Called DETER (The Drug Education, Treatment, Enforcement & Rehabilitation Program), it focuses on and finances a wide variety of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement efforts. 

As we all know, the abuse of alcohol and other drugs often results in psychological and other medical problems. We also know that drug use leads to social problems at the community level, and we all know that recovery from a drug addiction can be very difficult.

What all Vermonters need to know is that community-based solutions are in place and that help is available.

As an example, our New Directions program, now active in approximately two dozen communities, enables Vermonters to address substance abuse issues at the local level. Through New Directions, community coalitions throughout Vermont are awarded grants to help support efforts that include enlisting entire communities in preventing youth substance abuse, and using proven strategies to build a culture that supports youth in NOT using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

These grants fund community prevention projects of many kinds, including mentoring and family education programs, drug-free social and recreational activities, and local information campaigns to discourage alcohol and drug use.

This effort started as a pilot project several years ago, and based on its success, the Administration has budged money to insure its continuance.

Added to these ongoing efforts are several important new developments:

Methadone maintenance therapy, an evidence-based treatment that has allowed many Vermonters to stop using heroin and return to normal, productive lives, is now available within the state. Under the Douglas initiative, escaping from heroin no longer requires a daily trip to Massachusetts for treatment.

Governor Douglas also has spearheaded a successful effort to establish an intensive inpatient treatment facility in Bradford. The 80-bed facility opens this month, providing crucial services to women, men and adolescents.

Vermonters also now have access to buprenorphine, another medication-based treatment approach that is managed by primary-care physicians with support from a treatment provider. An alternative to methadone, buprenorphine is more appropriate treatment for patients without long histories of opiate use. DETER funds help support a center in Berlin that helps stabilize patients on this medication as they develop a treatment plan with their physician.

The Administration also is working on other components of this unified, strategic approach. We are collaborating with the Judiciary, for example, to develop guidelines and establish drug court programs that treat individuals with drug problems instead of sending them to jail.

Our message to Vermont communities and to individual substance abusers is this: There is help available to you. We can support your efforts to solve these problems.

To learn more about what your community can do, contact the Vermont Department of Health at 651-1550. If you are ready to quit using alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs, you may call us for a confidential treatment referral.

Barbara Cimaglio is Vermont’s deputy commissioner of health for alcohol and drug abuse programs. She can be reached at bcimagl@vdh.state.vt.us.