Burlington, Rutland experiencing spike in overdoses

Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 5:45 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Two of Vermont’s largest cities -- Burlington and Rutland -- have experienced a spike in drug overdoses this summer. It’s part of a statewide problem that leaders in the recovery community have been trying to tackle for years.

In Burlington, police responded to 232 overdose calls this year to date. That’s nearly the total number of overdoses reported all of last year. And in Rutland, police data shows 75 reports by the end of June compared to 54 at the same time last year.

“Addiction is wild because it takes over all of you,” said Emily Korkosz, who has been in recovery for four years and knows the struggle that thousands face when battling substance use disorder. “It’s easier to find a substance that is going to numb that for a while than to do the hard work to find tools to let everything out.”

Korkosz’ job now is to do just that. She’s a coaching services coordinator at the Turning Point Center of Chittenden County, working to help people on their journey to recovery. And what she’s seeing is a dangerous trend. “I would say there is a pretty big uptick with meth right now. That is a little more difficult because there is nothing that reverses that. You don’t overdose from it, but it can cause a lot of cardiac issues,” she said.

Data from the Vermont Department of Health show there has been a spike in overdoses and drug use at a faster rate than in previous years, especially in larger cities like Burlington and Rutland.

“We are all working to try to solve this problem,” said Rutland Mayor Mike Doenges. He says because the drugs are being taken into the city, local police and the FBI are constantly watching the activity. “At least one or at least maybe sometimes twice a month we will take down a couple of drug dealers -- that’s in conjunction with multiple agencies. It is a small community. This shows up here more than anywhere else.”

Hillary Ward with the Community Care Network in Rutland says they have brought in more people looking for addiction services. “I think we are seeing a lot of alcohol use disorder, a lot of opioid use disorder, a lot of trauma at the same time,” she said.

Recovery service providers pinpoint the problem to a lack of housing, employment opportunities, and the pervasiveness of fentanyl in the drug supply. “Oftentimes, our cocaine supply in the Rutland area is laced with fentanyl. That’s something that we are really concerned about that people don’t even realize -- that they are using fentanyl sometimes -- It’s laced in something else that they have taken,” said the Community Care Network’s Cindy Taylor-Patch.

At the Turning Point Center, Korkosz says they’re working to keep recovery coaches in the emergency department 24/7 to meet the rising need. “Anyone comes in in the middle of the night, they have somebody who can advocate for them and let them know that they are going to be okay, that they will be given resources,” she said. “I wish I could say that drug use and alcoholism like that will go away, but as everything gets more complex and times get harder, we are going to see more.”

If you or someone you know needs help, the VT Helplink is a statewide public resource for finding substance use treatment and recovery services in Vermont.

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