Conference focuses attention on substance abuse

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(Host) Advocates say the past two years have brought increased recognition of a serious substance abuse problem in Vermont. They say what’s needed now are the resources to deal with the problem. Providers and policymakers met on Monday in a first-ever town meeting to discuss ways to improve the system.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) According to advocates, Vermont has moved from denial to recognition of the acute substance abuse problem in the state. Many credit Governor Jim Douglas for bringing the need for prevention, treatment and recovery programs to the forefront. Douglas told the group that substance abuse in Vermont is pervasive, growing and classless.

(Douglas) “It’s also taking more lives. Our Department of Public Safety reported just last week that for the first time in the history of our state, the last calendar year resulted in more deaths from drug overdose than from highway fatalities.”

(Zind) While Douglas gets credit for raising awareness about substance abuse, he’s also criticized for not devoting enough money to the problem. The governor says funding can only increase at a rate state revenues can bear.

Chittenden Senator Jim Leddy said it’s essential more money be spent on programs. And Leddy says a proposed restructuring of the Agency of Human Services needs to recognize that every department in the agency, from corrections to child welfare is affected by substance abuse.

(Leddy) “Substance abuse is everywhere in our health and human service system. There’s not a program, there’s not an agency that should not identify substance abuse as a core challenge for them to address. If our plan to reorganize how we deliver services in this state does not emphasize and recognize this reality, then moving around boxes will have failed.”

(Zind) Providers say it’s not uncommon for families to experience abuse for successive generations and the state needs to find ways to break that pattern. Ken Liebertoff of the Vermont Association of Mental Health says in spite of advances, the system is still suffering from years of neglect.

(Liebertoff) “We currently have a system where people are often asked or told to wait. I think there’s a recognition that like some other health problems, being able to intervene immediately is a signal of success.”

(Zind) Vermont has plans to expand addiction treatment and has also earmarked money for a network of recovery centers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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