House passes opioid abuse prevention bill

Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Anne Galloway

Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Anne Galloway

Lawmakers, law enforcement and a number of other involved parties celebrated the smooth passage of two pieces of legislation they say will save lives.

The House voted today in favor of both H.522, which outlines a number of initiatives to stem opioid and methamphetamine abuse, and H. 65, which seeks to encourage people to report drug overdoses by granting them immunity from certain drug-related crimes.

At a press conference held Friday to mark the event, Speaker of the House Shap Smith was joined by lawmakers, Shumlin administration officials, drug abuse counselors and a state’s attorney who each highlighted the potential of various elements of the bills.

H.522 sets minimum standards for when doctors must consult the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System and sets up a monitoring system for meth precursors drugs that can be purchased at pharmacies. It also establishes a pilot program for wider distribution of a drug that reverses opioid overdoses and tasks the commissioner of the Department of Health with developing a statewide program to dispose of unused prescription medicine. H.522 also increases the regulation of precious metal dealers and makes it easier to crack down on drug activity that takes place on abandoned property.

Three committees — Human Services, Judiciary, and General Housing and Military Affairs — spearheaded the effort, which began early in the legislative session.

Both H. 522 and H.65 coalesced rapidly during the weeks leading up to the crossover deadline.

“I think we’ve made a big step forward,” Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said, adding that the issue must “remain on the front burner.”

After noting that 50 Vermonters died last year from an opioid overdose, Harry Chen, the commissioner of the Department of Health, said: “This bill is for them because some of them could have been saved if someone had dialed 911 or they had had Nalaxone.”

Keith Flynn, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, who has pushed hard in the past for expanding law enforcement access to the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System — a provision not included in H. 522 — said he was willing to temporarily put that objective on hold in the interesting of seeing an important piece of legislation pass.

“Very frankly, this is so important to get passed through, and we believe it was so necessary to have this year that I looked to some of the things that are in this bill that are going benefit law enforcement and particularly it’s going to be the strengthening of the quality of the information in the VPMS,” Flynn said.

He added: “In a year from now, we’ll be back.”

Alicia Freese

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