Public statement by Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, president of The University of Vermont Medical Center.  

eileen whalen uvm medical center

Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN is President of The University of Vermont Medical Center.

It is disappointing that on the fourth day of this New Year, we are gathered to discuss a significant increase in the number of opioid-related overdoses seen at the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

At 6 a.m. this morning, our administrative nurse in charge reported seven overdoses being treated in our ED since 11 p.m. the night before. A busy overnight for us is typically a couple of overdoses. I cannot discuss the status of the patients at this point, other than to say they came from the broader Chittenden County region.

Many will ask what was consumed – or, what was it laced with – to cause these overdoses. Some will say we got “a bad batch.” Those are important questions and they deserve investigation, but I am here to tell you emphatically that there is no such thing as a safe batch of heroin.

This uptick in overdoses is all too familiar nationally and even locally, and serves as a dire warning for the need to address prevention, to reinforce the need and availability of treatment, and to work to reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder.

By working together, Vermont has become the national leader of innovative treatment for patients with opioid dependence, leading the way on so many fronts.

  • We have worked to reduce the stigma of this disease by integrating its treatment into a primary care model, where patients are seen for treatment for this condition as they would be seen for hypertension or high cholesterol.
  • We are launching treatment on demand in communities across the state, where EDs are providing initial doses of medication assisted treatment with integration into a treatment center within 72 hours.
  • We have collaborated in new and innovative ways with social service agencies, local and state government, law enforcement and more to marshal the resources of this community through organizations like the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance.

Yet, incidents like the one last night continue. Too many of our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons are dying. We must do more. We can do more.

The message I would like to deliver today to those using substances and their families is this: If you are using, we and our partners, like the Community Health Centers of Burlington, are here to help you into recovery.  Please seek help. Programs like the Safe Recovery Program at Howard Center are able to provide support for people seeking recovery, as well as narcan and fentanyl testing strips.

As a community, we must also turn our attention to the work of prevention and addressing this issue upstream. We must stem the tide of addiction. Working together as a community we can save lives.

This statement was read by Eileen Whalen at a press conference hosted by the Vermont Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mark Levine, at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, January 4, 2019.

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