Vt. Fatal overdose doubled in first two months of pandemic

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) The opioid crisis in Vermont has not disappeared during the pandemic. New numbers from the Vermont Department of Health show it might even have gotten worse.

Fatal overdose deaths in Vermont doubled year-over-year in the first two months of the pandemic, from four to nine in March and from eight to 17 in April.

“We are really concerned,” said Cynthia Seivwright, Cynthia Seivwright, director of alcohol and drug abuse programs for the Vermont Department of Health.

Data shows that in March and April, the non-fatal opioid overdose rate for every 10,000 people visiting Vermont emergency rooms is double that of last year.

“The more isolation you see, the more depression, the more anxiety people feel, and then they have a tendency to use more,” said Seivwright.

“An overdose is too much,” said Astrid Hoyt, a recovery coach at Turning Point, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for people with opioid use disorder. She has been in recovery for 12 years. “I’m looking forward to a face-to-face meeting. I mean, for someone in recovery, connection really is the most powerful antidote to the disease.”

“Talking on this {phone} doesn’t always do that,” said Michael Johnson, who runs the Springfield location at Turning Point. He says face-to-face meetings are slowly starting to increase, but the substance-free space for hanging out remains closed and reaching newcomers in sobriety remains a challenge.

“Despite the virus, the addiction continues, and continues at the rate we have, and it is increasing and we are not doing enough for that,” Johnson said.

“We are dealing with an epidemic within a pandemic,” said William Simoneau. He says he has been in recovery for 17 years and has a solid basis for his addiction despite the difficult times of the pandemic. But he cares about those who teeter on the edge. “There is a higher level of basic fear and anxiety about life. It worries me every time I go to the grocery store that I am bringing something home for my vulnerable family.”

Vermont launched a new online resource in March: VTHelplink

“To gain access to recovery, prevention and treatment services, as well as to find out where they can access naloxone and fentanyl test strips,” said Simoneau.

The bottom line, officials say, is to seek help for those struggling with addiction. Resources are available that include 12 Turning Point locations across the state.