Following Rhode Island, Vermont Moves To Expand Access To Anti-Overdose Medication

Aug 29, 2016

Vermont officials announced new measures Thursday to expand the availability of a drug that can counteract the effects of an opiate overdose. The drug can now be sold by any Vermont pharmacy without a prescription.

The drug is naloxone, which is often sold under the brand name Narcan, and it's already saving lives in Vermont. Health Commissioner Harry Chen said his department is distributing more and more doses.

“The health department now gives out about 700 doses per month throughout 12 distribution sites,” said Chen.

The new policy is an effort to get the drug to even more Vermonters, but they're still going to have to sell it. And that means opiate addicts would have to spend around $75 dollars on a two-dose pack.

Governor Peter Shumlin said he recognizes that the people suffering from addiction may spend their money on opiates instead.

That's why he's calling on friends and family to purchase Naloxone.

“Because you can't expect the addicts - we hope they will - but you can't expect addicts to be fiscally responsible when they're addicted to opiates,” said Shumlin. “They will do anything to buy more opiates.”

Still, Shumlin and Chen both spoke in strong support of the state's programs to distribute naloxone.

Chen dismissed the idea that the drug is counterproductive because it makes drug users less cautious about drug use. And Chen also offered advice to drug users with the hopes of reducing the need for naloxone by preventing overdoses.

“I know this may sound strange to some but my message really to street drug users is really: don't use alone, have someone with you who can give naloxone or call 911,” said Chen. “Use only one drug at a time. Don't mix them with heroin or benzos. Test the strength of the drug before using the whole amount. Cut the amount you use at one time, and inject less if it feels too strong.”

Governor Shumlin also said he supports the City of Seattle's experiment with safe-injection zones where drug users can inject themselves with clean needles and have medical help nearby in case of an overdose.

Shumlin didn't advocate for a similar program in Vermont, but he did say he hopes to see more creative approaches to dealing with opiates.

“I think that we're doing this so wrong in America that any innovation should be given a chance to see how it goes,” said Shumlin.

For now, officials in Vermont hope that wherever drug users are, there's some naloxone nearby.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative. Eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting