Local residents meet with Sen. Sanders and Sen. Leahy


Members of the Vermont coalitions in front of the Capitol Building, just prior to meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Patrick Leahy in Washington, D.C. on February 8.
Photo by Scott Sharland.

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Representatives from Windham County’s community coalitions traveled to Washington, D.C. in early February to collaborate with 3,000 substance abuse prevention specialists and advocates from throughout the country for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s (CADCA) 27th annual National Leadership Forum. The Windham County coalitions making the journey were Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, The Collaborative, Deerfield Valley Community Partnership, Greater Falls Connections, and West River Thrives.

“It was wonderful to be part of a group that had a shared passion and vision about making a real difference in their communities,” says Deb Witkus, Greater Falls Connections Outreach Specialist. “It was incredibly exciting to learn from experts and community leaders who have made huge impacts in their communities.”

The coalitions heard from several national prevention leaders. The Vermont contingent had face-to-face meetings with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and staff from Rep. Welch’s office during the “Capitol Hill Day” event on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Topics discussed with Vermont’s national representatives included the impact of opioids, marijuana, and underage alcohol and tobacco use. The connection between early childhood trauma and substance use disorders was discussed as well.

Witkus added, “Given the fact that we had recently lost three individuals in Brattleboro to the opioid crisis, there was a sense of urgency to discuss our work with our legislators. The significance of prevention weighed heavily on the conversation. I felt like I was speaking on behalf of the families that we serve and who have been impacted by addiction. It was also good for the senators to hear about the youth work happening across the state to prevent substance abuse.”

The CADCA Forum covered a wide range of topics – from how to prevent prescription drug abuse and the abuse of marijuana to how to create tobacco-free environments and develop policies to reduce underage drinking. The local coalitions in Windham County have launched programs to address some of these topics such as the “Be Aware, Don’t Share” and “Lock your Meds” prescription drug campaign, the “I will be a Parent, not a Bartender” campaign, Sticker Shock, CounterBalance VT, and the prescription drug Take-Back Days.

Nine out of the seventeen Vermonters who made the trip to Washington are from Windham County’s community coalitions.

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