Opioid deaths in Vermont decrease for the first time since 2014

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Opioid-related fatalities in Vermont have decreased for the first time since 2014. Newly released data from the Department of Health show a 15% decline in the number of deaths attributed to opioid misuse — down from 130 in 2018 to 111 in 2019.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, M.D. said the news was welcome, but still sobering. “Our strategies to meet this public health challenge are making a difference,” said Dr. Levine. “But even a single death tied to opioid use is too many. Each person is a friend, family member, and loved one, and we owe it to them to keep making progress.”

“The opioid epidemic is one where it is difficult to celebrate progress because it remains a significant challenge that greatly impacts far too many Vermont families,” said Gov. Phil Scott. “However, it is important to pause and recognize incremental gains so that we continue to move in the right direction. Vermont has been a leader in this fight for years, and this important work will continue.”

Dr. Levine credits the state’s multifaceted, all-agency approach to tackling the opioid crisis. “Vermont has long been laying the groundwork in addressing opioid use disorder to reach this significant milestone,” said Dr. Levine. “The more lives we can save, the more Vermonters we can help on their path to recovery.”

Vermont’s efforts have included providing rapid access to medication-assisted treatment, patient education and rules governing prescription monitoring, the creation of a statewide network for naloxone distribution, safe drug disposal, syringe service programs, a statewide network of recovery centers, and building strong community partnerships.

Dr. Levine said Vermont has worked to dig deep into providing full-service programming that helps Vermonters move from treatment to successful recovery. Key to those efforts has been Vermont’s hub and spoke system of care that makes available medication-assisted treatment services to people diagnosed with opioid use disorder. More than 9,000 Vermonters currently receive MAT in state-supported facilities, and treatment is available to anyone who wants it. The hub and spoke system has since been adopted by other states as a care model.

Health officials stressed that although the progress to date is significant, even in normal times the work is ongoing, and there is no defined finish line other than ensuring Vermonters get the treatment and recovery services when and where they are needed.

In addition, Dr. Levine said the COVID-19 pandemic creates new challenges for people living with substance use disorder, but emphasized there are still many ways to get help. The Health Department recently launched VTHelplink, which provides free, confidential, and personalized information and referrals to substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services throughout the state.

VTHelplink features a call center of trained staff and clinicians and online resources, connecting Vermonters to information for themselves, family, and friends, or on behalf of clients.

“We are all adapting to changes during the pandemic, and substance use treatment is no exception,” Dr. Levine said. “Getting treatment is safe and necessary, and we will do all we can to see more Vermonters succeed in their recovery.”

Additional findings from the 2019 opioid-related fatalities – all data is preliminary:

  • Fentanyl continues to be the primary driver of opioid-related deaths in Vermont. Although there were fewer deaths involving fentanyl in 2019 (95) compared to 2018 (100), fentanyl accounts for 86% of deaths in 2019 compared to 77% in 2018.
  • The percentage of opioid-related fatalities involving cocaine continues to increase. Cocaine was present in 43% of opioid-related fatalities in 2019, up from 36% in 2018. The number of cocaine-involved deaths surpassed the number involving heroin for the first time since 2010.
  • After increasing from 42 deaths in 2017 to 69 deaths in 2018, deaths involving heroin decreased by nearly half in 2019 (37 deaths).

If you or someone you know needs help and support, visit www.vthelplink.org. Learn more at www.healthvermont.gov/opioids.

Back To Top