Vermont has poured millions of dollars into addiction-treatment programs in recent years. Now, a new federal grant will try to keep people from abusing drugs in the first place.
Barbara Elliot’s oldest child is about to enter middle school, and the Montpelier mother is more than a little nervous about the world that awaits him.
“It’s no longer just potty training and eating vegetables. It’s choices – choices about drugs, drinking, driving and even sex,” Elliot says.
As an obstetrical nurse, Elliot is no stranger to caring for infants. But when it comes to keeping her own teenager on the right track, she wanted all the help she could get. So she enrolled in a local class for parents.
“We did some role playing, and learned how important it is to have family rules, communicate really clearly, and that it is okay to say ‘no,’” Elliot says.
The program is the product of a partnership between Washington County Youth Services, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Department of Health. A $12.4 million federal grant means parents in other Vermont communities will now have access to the same kinds of prevention programs that moms like Elliot are using in parts of the state today.
Gov. Peter Shumlin last year dedicated his State of the State address to the issue of opiate addiction. The state has since invested millions in substance-abuse treatment programs, and increased capacity substantially.
“What we haven’t figured out adequately is prevention,” Shumlin says. “And as long as we are not succeeding there, you’re going to see more children be the victims of addiction … We’re going to see more kids in DCF (state Department for Children and Families) custody.”
Shumlin and Sen. Patrick Leahy announced the Regional Prevention Partnerships Grant at a press conference in Montpelier Monday. The money, paid out over five years, will provide additional funding for existing programs, like the one in Washington County. And Leahy says it will fund the creation of new prevention partnerships in St. Albans, Newport, St. Johnsbury, Middlebury, Springfield and Bennington.
“It’s a lot less expensive, it’s a far more productive, and it’s better for society if we prevent substance abuse on the front end, instead of all the problems we have on the backend,” Leahy says.
State officials say that a recent analysis shows a statistically significant drop in drug-usage rates among young people in the six parts of the state where prevention partnerships are already in place.
Investments in the state’s treatment infrastructure have yet to dent the state’s opiate problem however. Demand for opiate addiction treatment still outstrips supply. And a report from the Department for Children and Families last week blamed opiate addiction in part for a nearly 33-percent increase in the number of children in state custody.