Vt. fatal overdoses doubled in first two months of pandemic

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) The opioid crisis in Vermont has not gone away during the pandemic. New numbers from the Vermont Department of Health show it might have even gotten worse.

Fatal overdose deaths in Vermont more than doubled year over year in the first two months of the pandemic, from four deaths to nine in March and from eight deaths to 17 in April.

"We are really concerned," said Cynthia Seivwright, Cynthia Seivwright, the director of the Vermont Health Department's alcohol and drug abuse programs.

Data shows that in March and April, the rate of non-fatal opioid overdoses for every 10-thousand people who visit Vermont emergency rooms is twice as high as last year.

"The more isolation you see, the more depression, the more anxiety people get, and then they have a tendancy to use more," Seivwright said.

"One overdose is too much," said Astrid Hoyt, a recovery coach for Turning Point, a nonprofit that that provides resources to people with opioid use disorder. She's been in recovery for 12 years. "I'm craving in person meeting. I mean, for someone in recovery, connection is really the most powerful antidote for the disease."

"Talking on this {phone} doesn't always do that," said Michael Johnson, who runs Turning Point's Springfield location. He says face-to-face meetings are beginning to slowly ramp back up, but the walk-in substance free space to hang out remains closed and reaching out to those new to sobriety remains a challenge.

"Despite the virus, addiction is continuing, and it is continuing at the pace that we have, and it's increasing and we are not doing enough for that as it is," Johnson said.

"We are dealing with an epidemic inside of a pandemic," said William Simoneau. He says he has been in recovery for 17 years and has a solid footing on his addiction despite the trying times of the the pandemic. But he worries about those who are teetering on the edge. "There is just a higher level of base fear and anxiety about life. I'm worried every time I go to the grocery store that I am going to bring something home to my family who are vulnerable."

Back in March, Vermont launched a new online resource -- VTHelplink

"To get access to recovery, prevention, treatment services, as well as find out where they can access naloxone and fentanyl test strips," Simoneau said.

The bottom line, officials say, is to reach out for help for those struggling with addiction. There are resources available including 12 Turning Point locations around the state.