Opiate abuse may be up, but overdose deaths are flat

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.

For the purposes of comparison, there were 71 traffic fatalities in 2013.

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.

Laura Krantz

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  • Fred Woogmaster

    When the United States invaded Iraq, a long time and trusted friend, also a long time civilian physician at Walter Reed, told me that the number of combat deaths would be reduced from those of past wars, but that many more of those who serve would come back more seriously maimed. Newly developed protective armor, he said.

    Less deaths? More maimed for life? The maintenance of those addicted to drugs is far more profitable than the maintenance of those who are buried.

    The pharmaceutical corporations are people, according to Citizens United. Let’s hold those people appropriately accountable for the damage that is occurring on our streets. Reduce their profit and elevate their accountability.

    The pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying efforts involve the expenditure of huge amounts of money, as does their TV advertising.

    Why not find a way to require the application of more of those funds to “cleaning up the mess.” It is a toxic mess.

    • Jim Christiansen

      Great. We can sue GM and Bombardier for allowing their products to be used in the transfer of drugs. Let’s not forget Proctor and Gamble or Johnson Wax, because without those little bags, how could you package the dope for resale. The government built the roads, so let’s get them too.

      I understand your frustration, but at some point, the individual has to be responsible. This horrible problem will not be addressed when it is always “someone else’s” fault.

      • Fred Woogmaster

        The individual is absolutely responsible, Mr. Christiansen. I agree.

        When the playing field is level and the deck is not stacked, the assignment of responsibility is much clearer.

        Over time I have watched as the cure of the disease created great profit for those who introduced the disease.

        Hold individuals responsible for sure, Mr. Christiansen but hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for its part in the “addicting cycle” and require that some, just some, of its lavish profit be applied to the solution. That’s all.

  • Jim Candon

    There’s no need to blame anyone outside Vt for this disaster.

  • Will Hunter

    What is the number of heroin overdose deaths?

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Me too. Digger?

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