Vermont Governor Rejects Bill for Safe Drug Injection Sites

Safe injection sites are not going to go forward in Vermont after Republican Governor Phil Scott vetoed a bill that would’ve allowed some to be set up as part of a pilot overdose prevention center.

The sites, which would’ve been set up in Burlington, the state’s largest city, would have been places where people could use narcotics while being supervised by trained staff who would have the ability to revive them if people took too much.

In vetoing the bill, Scott wrote a letter to lawmakers in the state. He wrote that the sites have good intentions, but “this costly experiment will divert financial resources from proven prevention, treatment and recovery strategies.”

It’s expected that the state Legislature, controlled by Democrats, will try to override the veto sometime this month.

The bill would’ve allocated $1.1 million for the next fiscal year to the state Department of Health to allow it to award grants to Burlington so a center could be established. That money would have come from the Opioid Abatement Special Fund, which comes from a national settlement that drug manufacturing and distribution companies struck with states.

If the center were set up, it would have given people referrals to addiction treatment resources as well as social and medical services available to them. In addition, it would have provided education regarding preventing overdoses and about medications that could reverse overdoses.

In a statement released last week following Scott’s veto, state Senate President Pro Tem phil Baruth, who is a Democrat, said:

“The dramatic rise in fatal overdoses over the past 10 years is one of the most pressing crises facing our state.”

According to the state Department of Health, the number of opioid overdose deaths in Vermont has increased by nearly 500% in the last 10 years. One of the driving forces of those deaths has been fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s been proven to be 50 times stronger than heroin.

While drug overdose deaths have risen across the country in the last few years, the problem has been especially bad in Vermont.

According to the independent organization KFF, there were more than 106,600 deaths due to drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021, which was a 51% increase from 2019.

That year, the drug overdose death rate was 32.4 per 100,000 for the U.S. as a whole. In Vermont, that rate was 30.56% higher — at 42.3 per 100,000.

In his statement, Baruth said that overdose prevention centers play a crucial role in saving lives, connecting people to different treatment options and reducing pressures on Emergency Medical Services and hospital emergency departments. In addition, they often lead to decreased drug consumption in public places.

Scott vetoed a bill two years ago that was very similar to this one.

Safe drug injection sites have grown in popularity in recent years due to the opioid epidemic, but many people are still very much against the concept.