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Addressing the Opioid Epidemic

December 08, 2018

Governor Phil Scott created the Vermont Opioid Coordination Council(OCC) in his second-ever executive order on January 5, 2017.  This action made clear the Administration’s—and the state’s—priority of addressing the epidemic of substance abuse.

The OCC has been active since its inception, focusing efforts on prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement. In a report to Gov. Scott earlier this year, the OCC outlined recommendations to address the epidemic, and its work is ongoing.

The OCC is a powerful state effort because it brings together a wide range of stakeholders and perspectives to collectively and thoughtfully address a shared challenge. Preventing and treating SUD requires a collaborative approach that examines clinical and community factors alike.

In various ways, VAHHS members have been working to help achieve many of the OCC’s recommendations. In addition to Board Chair Jill Berry Bowen participating on the Council itself, hospitals and health providers throughout the state are managing SUD and adopting long-term prevention and awareness strategies to meet objectives named by the Council. For example:

  • Developing a statewide system to support mothers with substance abuse disorders and their children and achieve universal home visits for all women and children.
  • Exploring best-practice models for data and information sharing.
  • Ensuring full participation among providers in the Vermont Prescription Monitoring system (VPMS).
  • Ensuring that all prescribers and those who are training to prescribe receive training on alternatives to opioid pain management, including non-pharmacological options, and on patient education regarding options and risks in pain management.
  • Maximizing the use of non- pharmacological approaches (integrative health care professions) for pain management and for SUD treatment and recovery.
  • Expanding screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) throughout our primary care system and in our emergency departments.
  • Supporting, evaluating and improving Vermont’s nationally acclaimed hub-and-spoke system, in which our member hospitals are often the hubs.

Hospitals and others are also trying to help reduce the stigma so often associated with substance use disorder. Stigma is common, and can keep those who suffer from getting treatment or lead them into situations where side effects of SUD—such as IV-induced illness, overdose and even death—can needlessly occur.

I am grateful to Vermont’s hospitals—and all our state’s health care providers—for their work in this area. I also want to thank the Agency for Human Services, Secretary Al Gobeille and his team, members of the OCC, and the Council’s staff including Jolinda Laclair and Rose Gowdy.

Jeff Tieman, CEO
Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems