For several years we have found ourselves in an opioid crisis in Vermont; losing family and community members at a rate now higher than that of car accident fatalities. It’s striking and devastating and our community is doing something about it. The Chittenden County Opioid Alliance was created in 2016 as the brain child of Martha Maksym, then Executive Director of the United Way and Harry Chen, MD, then Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health. It was created with the intent of mobilizing the community across every sector to end fatal overdoses and improve the systems addressing the negative impacts of illicit opioids. We now have many partners seated around the table. We are working to address prevention, treatment access and recovery supports and employment for people with substance use disorders. We’re working with State government agencies, UVM Medical Center, Howard Center, businesses, local non-profits, law enforcement agencies, and communities to develop awareness and take action. We realize it will take the actions of every sector to change the trajectory of not just illicit opioids, but other substances as well, including alcohol and marijuana.
In the next year you will find us working to address stigma and helping the community view substance use disorder as a disease; not a moral failure or shortcoming. We’ll be working to ensure anyone interested in treatment finds an open door and a community of people ready to help with compassion and understanding. We’ll be working to support employers with hiring and retaining of employees with substance use disorders. We’ll collect data and use it to understand where we are finding success and where we need to do more.
When Attorney General TJ Donovan spoke at Recovery Day at the State House on February 6th, he spoke of “the disease of shame that erodes ones soul.” He also said that, “love is stronger than the shame.” In January I lost a family member to substance use disorder. He was 55 years old. I wonder how differently his journey through life would have been if we had wrapped him in love and support instead of shame and guilt and constant societal reminders that he was a failure who couldn’t quite get it together.
We’re looking to make a substantial and sustained impact on the opioid crisis, but we can’t do it alone. We need your help. If you are a community member, or a person who has firsthand experience with the impacts of opioids or a family member of someone who has, we’d love to meet you and include you in our Alliance. Whether you have regular time in your schedule to attend meetings and plan next steps, or simply want to have a conversation about your ideas and needs, we want to meet you.
Christine M. Johnson, Executive Director of the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance