Seven Days

Overdose-Prevention Site Bill Advances in the Vermont Senate

Kevin McCallum May 1, 2024 16:52 PM
Hannah Feuer ©️ Seven Days
A demonstrator in Burlington
A bill that would pave the way for a facility to help people use illegal drugs more safely advanced in the Vermont Senate on Wednesday.

H.72 was approved on second reading by a 21-8 vote, suggesting it would have sufficient Senate support to overcome a likely veto by Gov. Phil Scott. Supporters say they fully expect the House to also be able to muster the two-thirds majority required to make the bill become law over Scott’s objections.

The bill would create a pilot program for a single overdose-prevention center, most likely in Burlington. A previous version of the bill called for two sites, but the funding was cut from $2 million to $1 million.

Overdose-prevention centers, sometimes called safe-injection sites, are places where trained staff offer supervision to people using drugs; staff are prepared to intervene should anyone overdose.

Burlington leaders, including Mayor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, say opening a site is critical as the city seeks to reduce overdose deaths. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden-Central) issued a statement praising the vote.

“It’s imperative we do everything we can to address the opioid epidemic in Vermont with evidence-based approaches,” Baruth wrote. “Overdose prevention centers save lives, connect people to treatment, and reduce drug use and discarded supplies in public areas. I’m proud of the Senate for its work advancing this important legislation this year.”

The bill would require the Department of Health to develop guidelines for the sites by September 15, 2024. The operation of any center would be closely studied for its impact on overdose rates, as well as on the surrounding neighborhood.

Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak has called for overdose prevention sites.
The bill advanced after criticism by Republican senators and a failed effort by a Democrat to add an amendment barring those under 21 years old from using such centers.

Sen. Thomas Chittenden (D-Chittenden-Southeast) said he worried that teenagers experimenting with drugs could get their hands on heroin and go to a site to learn how to inject the drugs.

“I worry that this is sending the wrong signal to our youth,” Chittenden said.

Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky (P/D-Chittenden-Central) pushed back on such a prohibition.

“I think it is very uncomfortable to consider young people using drugs,” she said. “But the reality is, they are, and I think it's more uncomfortable to consider them dying of overdoses because we bar them from access to treatment.”

The bill still needs a third reading in the Senate before heading back to the House for its expected final approval and delivery to the governor.

Related Articles