By ROSALYN GRAHAM
Broad community involvement will be key to reducing the serious opioid-addiction epidemic in our state and around the country.
That was the message last Wednesday from Jolinda LaClair, director of Drug Prevention Policy with the Vermont Agency of Human Services, who addressed the Charlotte-Shelburne-Hinesburg Rotary.
LaClair has oversight and management of Vermont’s Opioid Coordination Council, established by Gov. Phil Scott in January 2017.
She said she likened her job to putting together parts of a puzzle. Her work on drug prevention focuses on building an increasingly large and diverse council that implements prevention, intervention and enforcement plans. The council’s 22 members represent state government, private business, service providers, law enforcement, first responders, and individuals in recovery or those with family members who have a substance use disorder. They come from across Vermont.
In particular, she spoke highly of Champlain Valley Union High School Principal Adam Bunting’s role on the council. “Adam Bunting has brought more heart to the challenge of bringing drug prevention services to youth,” LaClair said.
Programs at CVU have been broad in their outreach, developing innovative youth and family activities, and using the traditional role of the school library as a safe place for finding information about addiction, and more. “If every school was like CVU, embracing youth and families, we’d be stronger in our fight to prevent drug abuse,” she said.
LaClair also pointed a recovery center in Burlington providing group therapy for addicted new mothers and programs for children to help them to be more resilient in the face of life challenges such as poverty and divorce.
Addressing addiction needs to begin with addressing how and where it begins from the ground up: recognizing that many problems begin with prescription pills; understanding that relapse is to be expected; and knowing that the first day of treatment is the first day of recovery.
“Vermont is ahead of the curve,” she said. There are nine hubs (methadone clinics) in the state with spokes that connect to other services, which is considered a model of best practice nationally.
LaClair encouraged Rotary to support a consortium of Rotary Clubs working to promote engagement in their communities, including gathering more data.
So far, the available data show that in 2016, there were 106 opioid-related deaths in Vermont and through September 2017, there were 72 deaths. Also, more than half of the children ages 5 and younger in state custody are there due to opioid abuse issues.
Those figures are from the Vermont Department of Health Vital Statistics System, and data provided by Department for Children and Families to the Opioid Coordination Council.