Vermont leads US in pandemic overdose death rate
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Vermont has had the highest percentage increase of any state in the U.S. in drug overdose deaths during the coronavirus pandemic.
The CDC reported this week that for the first time in a 12 month period, the United States surpassed 100,000 opioid deaths. And from April 2020 to April 2021, Vermont saw a 70% increase in the number of overdose deaths - the highest percentage increase in deaths of any state
“Comparing when Vermont was actually going in the right direction and our overdoses were really low and the time period ended at the time where Vermont overdose data was at its highest,” said Cynthia Seivwright, the division director for the health department’s alcohol and drug abuse programs. She says Vermont measures overdose deaths differently, only counting accidental ods, so the state’s numbers are not as high. But the health department’s data still shows an increase from a three-year average of 88 deaths to 129 just in the first eight of this year. “Looking at where we are right now, we’re at 129, so we are definitely higher. I’m concerned about what’s happening in relation to COVID.”
Seivwright says over the last year, new drugs have come into Vermont that can be attributed to a majority of overdoses, including the use of fentanyl.
Representative Ann Pugh, D-Chittenden, says stresses from the pandemic were a prime driver of the spike. “In terms of the difficulty with housing, with access to treatment, and economic insecurity,” she said. The state is now planning to use $12 million in federal COVID relief money to address the opioid crisis. “It might be the time for us to seriously begin our exploration as to whether or not something like a safe consumption site makes sense in Vermont.”
Seivright says the funding will also pay for outreach workers to try to get more drug users into treatment and recovery coaches to meet with overdose survivors in emergency departments.
Copyright 2021 WCAX. All rights reserved.