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Opioid abuse epidemic
State tracks progress on opioid crisis

Following up on recommendations made in January, the Opioid Coordination Council released a progress report Thursday showing ways those suggestions have been implemented.

Among the developments mentioned in the four-page report are a community collaboration toolkit to “help communities create effective collaborations such as Project VISION,” the distribution of Naloxone kits to the almost 170 EMS agencies in the state and a roughly 10 percent increase in medication-assistance prescribers.

In a statement, Gov. Phil Scott called the opioid crisis “one of the most complex challenges we have faced here in Vermont and across the nation.”

“Far too many people and their loved ones face the daily struggles and terrible toll that comes with opioid addiction. This report highlights the work of the council, in collaboration with many state and local partners, legislators and providers, to strengthen and advance a cohesive statewide system of supports for prevention, treatment, recovery and enforcement,” he said.

Mayor David Allaire, a member of the council, said he believed the suggestions in the 2018 report were more focused than those in last year’s report.

“We tried to reduce some of the areas, make it a little more strategic, so there would be a little more of a probability of the Legislature and the governor being able to put them into action,” he said.

Allaire said the council wanted to put more emphasis on prevention tactics this year.

Vermont Drug Prevention Policy Director Jolinda LaClair said the progress report shows the state’s efforts to follow up on the council’s recommendations by documenting how they’re being put into use.

LaClair said she was proud of the collaborative effort between the council and state agencies.

“I can give you a recent example, which is with transportation. We know there are gaps in transportation services with people who are living with addiction or in recovery trying to get to treatment, trying to access recovery supports, trying to get to their job or childcare if they don’t have a vehicle or have lost their license. We have been successful in pulling together the Agency of Human Services and the Agency of Transportation to sit down and say, ‘All right, how do we do gap analysis, and how do we maximize the resources we’ve got and be very honest about where we are going to need new resources,’” she said.

LaClair said the report looks at services that can assist Vermonters in becoming substance free as well.

“People in recovery need a home, a job and wraparound support,” she said.

The report includes steps taken to help people find jobs, appropriate housing and recovery coaching.

“Some of these efforts do not require any money. Some of these efforts do not require any policy change. Most of these efforts reflect enhanced integration of program delivery and a willingness on the part of state agencies and departments, and regional organizations to work together, put aside any differences and look at the goals,” she said.

LaClair described some of the goals as increasing the number of people in recovery as well as helping them sustain recovery.

While Scott praised Vermont’s “important steps forward,” he said the progress is “never enough.”

“Prevention programs should reach into every community for every Vermont child and adult, as we work to keep Vermonters healthy and safe from substance use disorder,” Scott said in a statement.

Allaire pointed out that while Thursday’s report looks at the progress of recommendations, the council continues to consider new ideas. Another recommendation report is expected in January.

“It’s not something that’s going to be addressed in a couple years. We know we need to remain engaged. I certainly want to remain a part of the ongoing discussions,” he said.

The Strategic Actions and Progress Report can be read at tinyurl.com/1221Progress.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com


Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Man on a Mission

Craig Pelkey, of Pittsford, tries his luck fishing in Otter Creek for northern pike on a warm Thursday in December.


Local
New program will help victims of anonymous crimes

Organizers are looking for the right candidate to lead a new program aimed at helping crime victims get restitution even if no criminal has been identified or charged.

Funded by a federal grant from the Victims of Crime Act, the Voice and Choice for Victims Demonstration Project is looking for a victims liaison to bring the new service to Rutland, according to Lisa Ryan, program manager for the Rutland County Community Justice Center at BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont.

The second and third years for the three-year grant will be for about $48,000. The first year, which started in October instead of the beginning of the fiscal year, will total about $45,000, which includes a local match of about $9,000.

“This position is going to allow us to work solely with victims of all crimes in a way that will really allow them to feel heard and respected and acknowledged,” Ryan said.

As an example, Ryan described someone finding his or her tires slashed.

“There’s no identifiable perpetrator, they just got slashed. How do we work with that individual? Some sort of compensation fund or working with a small business to help repair those tires because what happens is, when we see this, one thing starts and then it trickles down. Now that person (with the slashed tires) may not be able to get to work or take the kids to school. It’s really a domino effect from there,” she said.

The program will accept referrals from the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Rutland City Police Department through memorandums of understanding.

The referrals from the state’s attorney would be people who don’t want to proceed through the criminal prosecution process or people who need support post-conviction.

“We’re not trying to duplicate the services of what the victim advocates are doing at the state’s attorney’s office. We’re trying to take some of the work off them by offering other options,” Ryan said.

The victims’ advocates at the prosecutors office mostly work with victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The police department is likely to refer victims of vandalism or burglary, Ryan said, but she said she hopes Voice and Choice can also help victims of hate crimes and bullying at local schools and colleges.

“We’re really looking to expand and increase the capacity of service delivery and programs to reach a broader spectrum of victims in this region. If we can come together and find a process that works and that’s healing and restores and makes victims and survivors feel heard, then we’re doing our job,” she said.

Because the program is based at BROC, Ryan said she hoped people who are served there would also access other BROC programs.

Voice and Choice was approved by the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, which manages the federal funds, in the summer. The grant request was written by Ryan, guided by BROC’s Community Services Director Elizabeth Eddy, and Ryan said it was her first grant.

With the grant awarded Oct. 1, Ryan said she would like to have Voice and Choice up and running as soon as possible.

However, Ryan said she hasn’t heard from the right applicants. She said she’s looking for someone who has worked in human services and has at least a bachelor’s degree.

Ryan said the right candidate will have empathy and be dedicated to “helping change the lives of victims in our community.”

“We’re really looking for an individual that is really sensitive to the needs of victims. I want it to be a person who’s very dedicated, can talk to people and meet them where they’re at and understand that these are very difficult things to have to deal with,” she said.

Because the position is new, Ryan pointed out the victims rights liaison would have a lot of opportunity to shape the future of the project.

Ryan said she’s hoping to find a creative candidate who can create resources like support circles or peer groups to help victims with emotional recovery as well as the loss of money or possessions.

People interested in the position can reach out to BROC.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com


Another lawsuit: Group of school districts will file court appeal over Act 46

A group of school districts planned to file a legal appeal Thursday challenging Act 46, the state’s school district consolidation law.

This is the second legal challenge this month to the Act 46 forced mergers; The Elmore-Morristown Unified Union School District and the Stowe School District have already filed suit.

This latest appeal by the group of school districts names the State Board of Education, the Agency of Education and the secretary of education, and it challenges the state’s authority to forcibly merge 45 school boards under Act 46.

The group says the State Board of Education’s decision to forcibly merge districts, sometimes against the wishes of local voters, is unconstitutional.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit sent out Thursday morning, attorney Charles Merriman stated:

“Vermont is justifiably proud of (its) history as a society shaped by the vote and made functional by robust, civic participation. Somewhere along the line, the good — but unelected — people on the State Board of Education lost sight of our shared history when they misinterpreted Act 46 as mandating school consolidations over the express, reasoned opposition of voters. If left uncorrected, the Board’s decision will have the depressing effect of dampening civic participation in favor of top-heavy bureaucratic structures wholly alien to our democratic traditions.”

In the appeal, the group argues that the board’s decision to force mergers goes against part of the wording in Act 46 which allows districts to create alternative structures.

“If upheld, the Board’s ‘casual dismissal of statute’ will have lasting impacts for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come,” the appeal states. “It is already tearing communities apart and pitting towns against each other. It is harming our students, our schools, the very fabric of rural life, the democratic process, checks and balances, and the foundational notion that governance requires consent of the governed.”

The school districts were joined by seven select boards, one planning commission and also some individual taxpayers, parents and students.

The group also says it will ask for an injunction and stay to halt the merger process, which is supposed to be completed before July 1, 2019.

The towns and school districts that signed on to the appeal include: Athens School District, Barnard School District, Barnard Select Board, Bellows Falls Union High School, Berlin School District, Brighton School District, Brownington Select Board, Calais School District, Calais Select Board, Charleston School District, Coventry School District, Craftsbury School District, Dummerston School District, Franklin School District, Franklin Select Board, Glover School District, Grafton School District, Greensboro School District, Greensboro Select Board, Highgate School District, Irasburg Planning Commission, Irasburg School District, Irasburg Select Board, Jay/Westfield School District, Lakeview Union School District, Lowell School District, Middlesex School District, Montgomery School District, Montgomery Select Board, Newbury School District, Newport Town School District, Richford School District, Sheldon School District ,Stannard School District, Troy School District, Westminster School District, Windham School District, Worcester School District.


Spotlight

“They will not be able to disappear into the United States. They will have to wait for approval.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee about a new administration policy to keep asylum seekers in Mexico. — A6

Notte: A farewell

Alderman William Notte tells City Hall reporter Gordon Dritschilo he has attended his final Board of Aldermen meeting before assuming a new role as state representative. A2

Abuse report

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a report implicating by name at least 500 clergy members accused of sexually abusing children. B4


RHD hotspot

Dec. 29

Bird Count

Birds spotted within a 7.5 mile radius of Meads Falls in Center Rutland will be counted by teams. Counters may participate from dawn to dusk, or for as little as an hour or two. Call 287-9338 for more information or to sign up. www.rutlandcountyaudubon.org.


Online

See and hear the Rev. John Weatherhogg’s Christmas message in this week’s Talking Pictures video at rutlandherald.com or visit bit.ly/1221TalkPix directly.