Vermont sees increase in stimulants, prescription drug use

Published: 9/9/2019 9:50:22 PM

MONTPELIER — Vermont is seeing a spike in stimulant drug abuse and prescription use, a trend that has policymakers and officials worried that the state soon could face a deepening drug crisis.

Lawmakers on the state’s Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee asked health department and public safety officials to testify about stimulant use in Vermont last week amid concerns of rising methamphetamine abuse in the region and across the country.

But while the Vermont Department of Health said that meth use in the state remains low, in a report presented to lawmakers, it said that the use of other stimulants, including cocaine and prescription drugs, is increasing.

More people seeking treatment for substance abuse disorder in Vermont are claiming they use stimulants, the department said.

According to the department, drug related fatalities involving stimulants — particularly cocaine — have increased in recent years. Between 2014 and 2018 there were 152 stimulant overdose deaths in Vermont.

More than 90% of the overdoses involved cocaine and in 80% of those cases, the deaths resulted from a combination of cocaine and fentanyl.

Between 2016 and 2017, Vermont ranked highest in the country for cocaine use among 18- to 25-year-olds.

Doctors also are prescribing stimulants at a higher rate.

Between 2013 and 2017, Vermont saw a 14% boost in prescriptions for stimulant drugs like Ritalin, Adderall and Vyvanse, which are used to treat conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.

Vermont now consistently ranks as one of the top three states for its rate of Ritalin prescriptions per capita, according to the health department.

After Friday’s hearing, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wants to more closely examine the “prescription-writing habits” of Vermont doctors.

“What we learned is that in large measure the opioid crisis started because of the prescription-writing habits based upon the manufacturers of those products,” Sears said. “And the same thing seems to be repeating itself here.”

Windham and Bennington counties have the highest stimulant prescription rates in the state.

In Windham County, for every 100 county residents, there now are about 48 stimulant prescriptions; in Bennington County there are about 43.

Kelly Dougherty, the health department’s deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs, said Friday that more stimulant prescriptions could lead to more stimulant abuse throughout the state.

“If somebody develops a penchant for stimulants it could potentially lead to using other types of stimulants, and prescription stimulants can and are misused,” Dougherty said.

“I think that we need to understand why it’s so high here,” she said of Vermont’s rising prescription rate.

Officials said Friday that Vermont has yet to face the rise in crystal meth use that many other states have seen in recent years.

“We haven’t seen the influx that our counterparts across the country are telling us we’re going to see,” Lt. Teresa Randall of the Vermont State Police’s drug task force told lawmakers.

The Boston Globe reported last month that Massachusetts has seen a sharp rise in meth use that is placing a burden on its drug treatment system. Doctors told the paper that in general, providers are less equipped to treat meth addiction than other forms of substance abuse disorder.

In anticipation of rising abuse, the health department is assessing the technical assistance and training that drug treatment facilities in the state need to more adequately treat stimulant use disorder.

“We don’t have a wall that prevents Massachusetts problems from coming to Vermont, and they’ll be here shortly,” he said.

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