Preventing overdose deaths reason for supporting H72

At the risk of wading into a swamp that I don’t really need to get into in the first place, I’m going to touch on property taxes quickly. Out of all the Champlain Valley School District towns, Charlotte is in the best position as far as taxes are concerned — they’re going to go up, by how much we don’t quite know yet, but since we did our reappraisal last year and already went through a property-tax-paying cycle, it won’t be such a sharp increase for us as it will be in other towns.

That said, it’s not ideal. At the moment, there’s a lot of scrambling to explain how and why this happened, and how it seemingly came out of the blue to surprise everyone. My guess is that Act 127, which was passed in the last biennium before I got to the House, is going to get some tweaks and amendments, if not this year, then next year when the new biennium begins.

I wish I could do more about it, but right now I feel like I’m kind of stuck — a “no” vote on the big bill for the budget at the end of the session wouldn’t have any impact on the education fund numbers, and I don’t think the budget adjustment bill is going to have any real effect on school budgets either. I’m quite sorry that we’re in this bad situation and also feel bad that it seems like there isn’t much to be done at the moment.

While I’m getting myself into trouble, I might as well throw it out there that I did vote yes on H72, which was voted out of the House and sent over to the Senate last week. This is the overdose prevention bill; some people call these safe injection sites. I’ve written about it briefly before, but here’s why I voted yes: Overdose deaths in Vermont were the highest ever last year at 243. That’s 243 too many. Data shows that most overdose deaths occur when people who are using drugs are alone. If someone is there and there’s a problem, they can administer Narcan and save a life. If someone is dead, they can’t start the recovery process. So, in the interest of fewer overdose deaths and a greater chance of people get-ting the help they need to recover, I voted yes.

I know people are concerned about minors being allowed to use the overdose prevention centers. I would say to you in that case: Why do you only want the teenagers and adolescents to die from an overdose? Surely if they’re struggling with substance use and addiction, they don’t feel safe at home to speak with someone about it, or they don’t have anywhere else to go. Letting their parents or family members know they’ve been there won’t help matters. If someone can reach young people before there’s no hope left, it’s the most important, so that’s also why I voted yes.

This is a pilot program, which means that it’s temporary. If, when the funding is over, there’s been no reduction in overdose deaths, the same number of needles on the sidewalk and the same amount of people getting into legal trouble for using drugs, then we’ll try something else.

This is not a solution to the drug epidemic, nor is it a cure for substance use disorder. It’s simply one way to help, hopefully by reducing the number of people who die. We have other things to deal with, too, like improved mental health supports, better healthcare options so people can afford to get treatment, and more support for parents so that their children can grow up feeling safe and cared for. These are all reasons why I’ll continue to look for actual solutions, but in the meantime, I’d vote yes on it again.

I spoke with a group of people at the Charlotte Congregational Church the other day, and we discussed a lot of problems: unhoused people who need help, overdose deaths and substance use disorder, climate change, a housing crisis, our taxes and a zillion other things that I’d really like to solve and button up before the session ends in May, but it’s starting to seem like I probably won’t.

Reverend Kevin Goldenbogen took a moment to ask me where I see hope in the midst of all of these crises. It was an easy question to answer, and one that made me a little misty-eyed. This is where I see the hope: People who care enough to email me and ask questions, people who respectfully disagree with me and let me know why, people in the legislature who are introducing bills — I think around 300 just in this year alone — to try and fix everything from mental health supports for elementary school students to dam repair to puppy mills and every-thing in between. I’m not immune to the politics of all of it, and I certainly have my own biases, but I also interact all day, every day with people who really do care.

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