Opiate abuse may be up, but overdose deaths are flat

MONTPELIER --Gov. Peter Shumlin highlighted the opiate addiction crisis in Vermont in his State of the State address, but statistics show no significant rise in accidental drug overdose deaths from opiates over the past eight years, according to a new Health Department report.

In 2013 there were 62 drug overdose deaths in Vermont from Schedule II, III or IV drugs, the report says. In 2006 there were 57 overdose deaths. In the interim years, the number of overdose deaths rose and fell slightly.


Of 62 deaths last year, 51 involved a prescription opioid. Eleven were suicides, the report says.

The nine-page March 1 Health Department report to the Legislature comes amid Shumlin's call for better opiate treatment. State officials say the number of people seeking treatment for opiate addiction is rising and the state is pouring more resources into treatment.

The state is also in the midst of a pilot program to distribute Narcan, an overdose-reversing drug administered as a nasal spray. State police this month announced that all state troopers will soon carry Narcan with them at all times.

In 2006, there were 50 accidental drug overdose fatalities, all of which involved prescription opioids. There were seven suicides, five of which involved prescription opioids, the report says.

The report only deals with overdoses from drugs known as Schedule II, III or IV, a classification system created by federal law and based on whether the drug is considered to have accepted medical use, risk for abuse and likelihood to cause dependence when abused. Overdoses from heroin, a Schedule I substance, are not included in the report.

Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse that can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. That category includes oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, morphine, opium and codeine.

Schedule III drugs have less potential for abuse and includes Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine and buprenorphine (Suboxone.) Methadone and buprenorphine are also used to treat opiate addiction.

Schedule IV drugs are considered to have a low potential for abuse relative to Schedule III drugs and include Valium, Xanax and Ativan.

The report is a requirement of Act 75, a law passed last year aimed at curbing opiate abuse in Vermont. It uses information from the Chief Medical Examiner's office.

The deaths include accidents, suicides and undetermined drug fatalities, the report says. It does not include deaths due to injury such as car crashes related to substance abuse.

Most drug-related fatalities in Vermont are due not to a single drug but to a combinations of substances, such as a prescription drug and cocaine, the report says.


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