- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

BERLIN, Vt. (AP) - Progress is being made in Vermont’s fight against heroin and other opiate addictions, including more treatment programs serving a greater number of people as well as a regional effort with other New England states and New York to combat the problem, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday.

Shumlin, substance abuse experts, doctors and police detailed what has occurred since January when the governor, who is seeking re-election, centered his state-of-the-state address on the crisis.

Among the changes:

- 2,519 people are in treatment, up from 1,704, although there are still waiting lists.

- The state has hired a statewide director of pretrial services to help drug abusers who have committed nonviolent crimes get treatment and avoid court; the program has expanded into four more counties.

- 1,175 overdose rescue kits have been distributed to law enforcement and treatment programs with 67 lives being saved.

- A pilot project starting in October will allow inmates in South Burlington and Rutland to get drug treatment medications behind bars.

“This is a long journey. We are not going to eradicate opiate addiction in Vermont overnight. This is not easy work. What I can say is that the progress that we have made since January exceeds my wildest expectations,” Shumlin said.

Last week, Shumlin co-chaired the National Governor’s Association’s Drug Abuse Academy, a six-state policy academy on prescription drug abuse, and New England states and New York are also working together to help fight the problem in the region.

Clinics are reporting reduced waiting lists.

The clinic in Chittenden County has been able to serve about 30 percent more patients since January - 932 up from 722. It still has a waiting list of about 290 people, but that’s 55 percent lower than it was.

A statewide forum on community-based solutions resulted in the Health Department holding 10 follow-up meetings involving 500 people in local communities working on their own plans, said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy health commissioner in charge of Vermont’s alcohol and drug abuse prevention program.

“We’re really trying to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And I don’t think there’s any other state that’s doing even near the work that we’re doing in terms of a holistic approach,” she said.

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