Vermont’s 2021 opioid overdose deaths climb to 129

Published: 11/17/2021 9:59:13 PM
Modified: 11/17/2021 9:59:09 PM

A dozen Vermonters died of an opioid overdose in August, bringing the year’s total deaths to 129, according to the state’ s latest tally.

In a year when opioid fatalities in Vermont are surging, the 12 deaths in August match February as the lowest number recorded in a month. March registered the highest monthly figure so far with 26 deaths, according to a November report from the Vermont Department of Health.

This year’s total, however, shows a 24% increase — 25 more deaths — compared with the same period last year. The rise in opioid deaths is concerning, given that last year’s 157 fatal overdoses was already the most that the state has logged since 2009. This puts the state on track this year to surpass the death toll from 2020.

Fentanyl remains a major factor in fatal overdoses ruled accidental or of undetermined cause, according to the health department report. The powerful synthetic opioid has figured in 91% of the deaths so far this year and all of the deaths in August.

Users sometimes do not know fentanyl is mixed with the illicit opioids they have acquired, recovery coaches have said. They advise people not to use alone and to always have naloxone on hand, so someone can administer the opioid antidote, if needed.

Three of the August overdose deaths involved xylazine, an animal sedative not approved for human use, according to the department. This brings the year’s xylazine-related deaths to 18, a trend that officials flagged in October after seeing a spike from six in 2019 and five in 2020.

Health officials are concerned that because xylazine is not an opioid, it does not respond to opioid antidotes.

They have linked the overall increase in fatal opioid overdoses to the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought social isolation and greater mental health pressures.

When asked what might have contributed to the lower number of deaths in August, the department said there historically has been variation from month to month due to a variety of factors.

“There is no single reason to which we can attribute variability because overdoses involve circumstances specific to each individual, as well as drug availability and purity,” the department said in a statement.

The majority of Vermonters who died of overdoses this year were men and people in the 30-49 age group. Chittenden County, the state’s most populous, saw 26 of the 129 deaths. This is followed by Windsor County with 16, then Rutland and Washington counties, which each have 14.

The year’s figures could change, since some death certificates are still being processed.

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