Prescription Drug Abuse Becoming Crisis in Vermont, State Officials Say

Vermont officials say prescription drug abuse in the state is becoming a crisis. They are quickly trying to find ways to address the growing problem.

According to the Burlington Free Press, in 2010 more people were prosecuted in federal court in the state for illicit trafficking of oxycodone and other prescription opioids than for any other drug. Last year, prescription opioids accounted for more than half of the fatal drug overdoses in Vermont, for the sixth straight year. Vermont ranks only second to Maine in per-capita admissions for treatment for addiction to prescription opioids, the article notes.

One-quarter of cases brought before Vermont’s Medical Practice Board in the past five years involve claims about physicians improperly prescribing opioids to patients or family members, or over-prescribing opioids to themselves, the newspaper reports. While Vermont had the most per-capita consumption of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid abuse, the state does not have enough physicians willing to prescribe the drug.

Last month the state Health Department implemented emergency rules aimed at coordinating medication and counseling treatment for people addicted to opioids who are receiving the commercial version of buprenorphine, Suboxone, from doctors on an outpatient basis.

Governor Peter Shumlin told the newspaper that a team of top advisers is instituting a plan that includes improvements to prevention, treatment and recovery programs. He said he wants to allow law enforcement greater freedom in pursuing physicians and others who may be improperly prescribing opioids.

Earlier this week, the Burlington Free Press reported that abuse of Suboxone is a growing concern among Vermont corrections officials. Vermont Corrections Commissioner Andrew Pallito told the newspaper that Suboxone is the most common form of an illegal drug seized as contraband within the state’s correctional facilities.

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