Burlington searching for answers to combat drug crisis

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 10:10 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington is taking further steps to tackle its drug crisis. The city councilors on the Public Safety Committee Monday made changes to a resolution taking a closer look at declaring the drug crisis a public health and safety emergency.

First responders have already responded to a record 386 overdoses so far this year according to city officials.

“I think it is important that we provide this resolution with the urgency that is commensurate with the urgency that is the incredible public safety crisis that our city is now facing,” said Councilor Tim Doherty, D-East, a member of the Public Safety Committee.

At Monday’s meeting, the committee made changes to a resolution to tackle the drug crisis in the area. The resolution adds discussion of the issue to every City Council agenda. City Councilor Melo Grant, P-Central, says it has not been talked about enough.

”We need to have an item for each meeting, so we are properly informing the people of Burlington. where do we stand in terms of spending,” Grant said.

The measure also asks neighboring communities to urge the Vermont Department of Health to disburse opioid settlement money allocated by the Legislature. The money would go toward providing care, treatment and harm-reduction interventions for drug users.

“The state of Vermont has not acted with significant urgency to embrace all aspects of evidence-based harm reduction on the statewide level,” said Council President Karen Paul, D-Ward-6.

The committee also wants to hold two public forums to allow community members to learn from harm reduction specialists and the resolution also asks the governor and members of the Legislature to witness the Burlington crisis for themselves. The changes will now be sent to the full council for consideration at their next meeting on Oct. 10.

Vermont is set to receive more than $100 million in opioid settlement money over the next 15 years and the Legislature’s Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee is responsible for deciding where the money goes.

The group includes state lawmakers, doctors, recovery specialists, and municipal leaders like Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. They have been meeting monthly to hear from experts. Scott Pavek, Burlington’s substance use policy analyst, is a member of the group and says disbursement of the funds is going slower than anybody would like. “Certainly we’ve started to spend the money, but we’re learning what sort of wiggle room, what sort of creative opportunities might be afforded to municipalities,” he said.

Pavek says only about $200,000 has actually been paid out so far.

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