Addressing opioid overdose takes a comprehensive and holistic approach

Opioids – such as prescription painkillers and heroin – are powerful drugs that are highly addictive. Opioids slow breathing and heartbeat, and act on the brain to relieve pain. They can rewire brain chemistry, making anyone susceptible to addiction. Opioid use disorder (OUD) can have potentially devastating consequences for people who experience addiction and for their families and our communities.  

In Vermont, the number of deaths due to opioid overdose has increased almost 500% in the last 10 years. The synthetic opioid, fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, has been a driving force in the increase of overdoses.

The Vermont Department of Health has taken a comprehensive and holistic, inter-divisional approach to address OUD and prevent overdose deaths. Strategies include increasing public awareness, supporting community-based services and enhancements in Vermont’s health systems. These strategies have been developed and evolved in coordination with programs across the Health Department and with partners across the state.

Learn more about opioid overdose-specific initiatives.

Increasing awareness of the harms of OUD and how to prevent, recognize and respond to an opioid overdose

KnowOD: opioid overdose prevention and reversal

KnowOD messaging provides strategies that people can take to reduce overdose and overdose death such as using new syringes, testing for fentanyl and using Narcan (naloxone) as well as how to get these resources for free through community efforts. It also helps people identify when someone might be experiencing an overdose and how to respond to reverse it. 

RxAware: prescription opioid awareness

Vermont adapted the CDC’s Rx Awareness messaging, promoting RxAware, which focuses on people who have been prescribed opioids and discusses their strength, how easy it is to become dependent and addicted to them and how Vermonters can prevent addiction and overdose. 


Supporting community-based needs and services to address OUD and overdose

Syringe service programs (SSP)

Vermont’s syringe service programs (SSP) provide free and anonymous services, including access to new syringes, Narcan (naloxone) and fentanyl test strips, to reduce overdose and fatal overdose, in addition to preventing infectious diseases and connecting people to treatment and recovery services. 

Narcan® (naloxone): opioid overdose reversal medication distribution

Access to the overdose reversal medication, Narcan® (naloxone), has been greatly expanded in Vermont, with free distribution through emergency medical services (EMS) responders, pharmacies, SSPs and community treatment, recovery, health and resource centers. 

Prescription drug disposal: kiosks, mail-back envelopes and Take Back Days

Vermont’s prescription drug disposal system provides Vermonters with easy, free and convenient ways to safely get rid of unused or expired opioid medications through mail-back envelopes, kiosk drop boxes and coordinating the bi-annual National Take Back Day events.

Evolving health and other systems to better meet people where they are and provide supported treatment for sustained recovery

Opioid prescribing rule

The “Rule Governing the Prescribing of Opioids for Pain,” enacted in 2017, provides legal requirements for the appropriate use of opioids in treating pain in order to minimize opportunities for misuse and diversion and optimize prevention of addiction and overdose.

Vermont prescription monitoring system (VPMS)

The Vermont Prescription Monitoring System (VPMS) helps health care providers improve patient care and prevent potential harm resulting from use of prescribed controlled substances, including opioids, by monitoring prescribing trends, allowing prescribers to review prescribing patterns and providing continued education to health care providers. 

Social autopsy report: learning from interactions with state services

To continue the evolution and enhancement of Vermont’s systems of care, the Social Autopsy Reports identify trends in how Vermonters who died of a drug overdose interacted with state systems prior to death to identify opportunities for intervention. 

Opioid settlement advisory committee: statewide coordination

The Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee, established by Vermont Legislative Act 118, convenes in meetings open to the public to develop recommendations on how to spend the state's share of settlement money with drug manufacturers and distribution companies over the toll caused by prescription opioids. 

Opioid treatment and recovery services
  • To provide different levels of treatment for people experiencing OUD, Vermont utilizes a system of nine “hubs” that provide a higher intensity of support and over 100 “spokes” that provide office-based care, both of which can provide medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and other evidence-based treatments. 
  • Vermont’s recovery system provides services that support a variety of avenues for recovery to address each person’s unique recovery journey, including peer recovery, family support, substance-free activities and access to recovery through Vermont’s emergency departments. 



VT Helplink is a free resource that provides confidential, non-judgmental support and referrals to Vermont’s treatment and recovery services based on Vermonters’ needs and unique experiences.

Contact us
Substance Use Programs (DSU)

Vermont Department of Health
280 State Street
Waterbury, VT 05671-8340

[email protected] 

Opioid-Related Reports