Turning the tide on opioid abuse in Chittenden County

It’s hard to talk about opioid abuse as a community, but it’s even harder if we don’t. One of United Way of Northwest Vermont’s five key strategies to improving our community is preventing substance abuse, and we’re working with Chittenden County Opioid Alliance (CCOA) to do just that.

CCOA was formed in 2016 as a systemic response to Chittenden County’s opioid epidemic, working alongside UWNWVT and bringing together other nonprofits, medical providers, business leaders, law enforcement and government to turn the tide on the opioid crisis.

Vermont is not alone in this – across the country, more people are dying from opioid overdoses than at any point in history. From 2010 to 2017, opioid-related deaths in Vermont increased from 39 to 101 (a 159 percent increase) with a 33 percent increase in Chittenden County alone. But there’s reason for great hope.

Within the past two years, UWNWVT underwent a robust process to survey community members, nonprofit agencies and other stakeholders to determine our community’s highest priorities. From that process emerged the urgency to address opioid use and the formation of CCOA as the agent to facilitate that work.

“United Way of Northwest Vermont is at the center of the effort to address the opioid epidemic and its fallout,” said Jesse Bridges, CEO of UWNWVT and executive committee member of CCOA. “I’m confident that the efforts we’ve put towards forming this new model will have a significant impact on our community and improving the quality of life for everyone in it.”

CCOA’s collective impact model puts action teams in motion to work on specific elements of our community’s response to the opioid crisis: a community-level prevention team focused on educating young people and families about the dangers of opioid use; a treatment access and recovery support team to ensure resources are in place to help individuals break the cycle of addiction; and a working recovery team to help prepare people in recovery for success in the workplace and educate employers on how to ensure they thrive.

CCOA also uses community data to measure its success, and coordinates the CommunityStat initiative alongside the City of Burlington and other partners in government, non-profit and private sectors. This data-driven initiative allows CCOA to respond in real time to trends and pressing individual circumstances driving the opioid crisis in Chittenden County.

“Already, we are seeing a glimmer of hope that our work is starting to bend the curve in this upward spiral of opioid-related deaths,” said Christine Johnson, Executive Director of CCOA. After a 30 percent increase in deaths from 2015 to 2016 in Vermont, the increase from 2016 to 2017 was only 5 percent. “We’re making great progress, but the fact that this number continues to rise means our work has only begun,” said Christine.

To learn more about CCOA and to track our progress in this important work, visit their website.

Alison DeFisher