Preliminary data for 2018 shows that 110 Vermonters died from overdoses caused by opioids, a slight increase from the 108 who died in 2017.
Still, Vermont health officials are touting the preliminary numbers as a sign they are continuing to bend the curve on the opioid epidemic by slowing the upward trend of overdose deaths.
Fatal opioid overdoses increased 30 percent 2015 to 2016, and 12 percent from 2016 to 2017.
The preliminary estimate a two percent increase in 2018 means the state’s strategy — building treatment capacity and making it available on demand — is working, said Health Commissioner Mark Levine.
“The data is bearing out that our multi-faceted approach to addressing opioid use disorder is making a difference,” he said.
Levine credits the state’s Hub and Spoke treatment system. More than 8,000 people are currently receiving medication-assisted treatment in state-supported facilities, he says. And the number of people receiving recovery support services has doubled, from 2,000 in 2014 to 4,000 in 2018.
The preliminary data brief also found:
- The role of prescription drugs has decreased. In 2015, 41 percent of opioid-related deaths involved a prescription medication. In 2018, it’s an estimated 28 percent;
- Meanwhile, deaths from heroin are increasing, from 39 percent of all opioid-related desaths in 2017 to 55 percent in 2018;
- Cocaine was present in more cases, increasing by 7 percent of all deaths from 2017 to 2018.
The most worrisome trend, Levine says, is rise in deaths involving dfentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Fentanyl was involved in an estimated 75 percent of overdose deaths in 2018, up from 69 percent the previous year. And deaths involving fentanyl have nearly tripled since 2015.
“There is no way to know what you are getting in street drugs,” Levine says. “Anyone who uses should just assume that what they are taking has fentanyl in it and take steps to stay safe: Don’t use alone.”