By Zach Despart
Dr. Patricia Fisher said she recognized a name of a man on her patient list recently at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She had treated his ill father for years, and prescribed opiates for chronic pain.
The son now sought treatment for opiate addiction. He and his father had abused the drugs Fisher prescribed, and also sold pills to others.
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing -- that I had been the source prescriber for this patient's 10-year opiate addiction," Fisher said.
Fisher said the man later switched to using heroin, and had been arrested several times. The physician shared her her story Tuesday morning at a news conference in Burlington with Rep. Peter Welch and other public officials.
Welch, Vermont's lone delegate to the House of Representatives, is urging his colleagues to pass this week the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA). Welch said the legislation will expand drug education and prevention programs and increase the availability of opiate-reversal drugs among local law enforcement.
But Welch believes the measure falls short because it fails to give money directly to local communities. Welch and 52 other members of Congress wrote a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., asking for an emergency $600 million appropriation for local anti-opiate efforts.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., urges Congress to appropriate more funds for local communities to address opiate abuse at a news conference in Burlington on Tuesday.
"This problem is going to take local leadership to address, with a federal partner," Welch said."Those tax dollars we're urging Speaker Ryan to allow us to appropriate would be a significant commitment by the federal government to be that partner."
Those at the event -- Welch, Fisher, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan and state health commissioner Harry Chen -- agree opiate addiction is a public health problem.
Chen said the CARA this week will "save lives, turnaround lives ... and prevent opiate addiction in the first place." The state's top doctor praised the bill because he said it will combat over-prescription of opiates.
Donovan, the state's attorney, said he favors the legislation because it includes prenatal care for children born to opiate-addicted parents.
Chief del Pozo said increasing the number of police officers with the opiate-reversal drug naloxone will lead to fewer opiate overdose deaths. He said officers revived a victim as recently as last week.
"Treatment on demand is indispensable," Del Pozo said.
The police department has also created a new position titled "opiate policy operations manager" to lead the department's response to drug abuse.
Weinberger said efforts by city police to aggresively target drug traffickers while steering addicts toward treatment have been successful.
"We are farther along in engaging this crisis than other communities," the mayor said.