Mayor Weinberger Releases New Data in City’s Opioid Use Disorder Response, Says Overdose Crisis is Vermont’s Top Public Health Issue

Burlington Police Department Overdose Responses to Date Surpass 2022, Projected to Approach 500 by End-of-Year  

Burlington, Vt. – Today, Mayor Miro Weinberger released a new report by Burlington’s BTVstat Data team showing the region’s rising challenges around Opioid Use Disorder has reached unprecedented heights. Between January and July of 2023, the Burlington Police Department (BPD) responded to a record 265 overdoses, already surpassing the prior year’s total. Overdose responses increased by 75% between 2021 and 2022, and could increase as much as 100% between 2022 and 2023. City analysts project the total number of incidents to approach 500 by the end of the year. 

"Responding to the overdose crisis must once again become Vermont’s number one public health priority. Our officers and firefighters now respond to overdoses every single day. When confronting these numbers and the heartbreak behind them, it is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed by the magnitude of this issue,” said Mayor Weinberger. “Before the pandemic we were making real progress and saving lives. Because fentanyl and meth are now the dominant drugs in the community, the tactics of that period are no longer nearly as effective, but the principles that guided that period still represent our best path forward. This moment demands treatment innovation and a redoubling of harm reduction and interdiction efforts at all levels of government.” 

The new report, available on the City’s BTVstat Data Hub, shows the rate of both overdose responses and overdose fatalities accelerating sharply. BPD’s monthly overdose responses now average 39, up from 6 per month from 2015-2017. Chittenden County now averages 5.9 overdose fatalities per month, up from 4.6 last year. Statewide, overdose fatalities average 20 per month for the first 3 months of this year, up from approximately 16 per month – the monthly average for January – March over the prior three years. The Vermont Department of Health reports that the rate of opioid overdose death per 100,000 people in Chittenden County is slightly lower than the state average 12.4, while rates in other counties have reached as high as 23.9 in Windham County and 33.8 in Essex County.  

“Use of illicit substances is more dangerous today than ever before. A rapidly changing drug market increases the likelihood of overdose incidents – acute health crises that not only threaten the lives of people who use drugs, but also impact the health and well-being of local emergency responders,” said Scott Pavek, City of Burlington Substance Use Policy Analyst. “Adulteration of illicit drug supplies with increasingly potent opioids and novel psychoactive substances have eroded the efficacy of treatment programs and harm reduction services tailored to address the misuse of heroin or common prescription opioids. We must modernize our statewide system of care for substance use disorder to match the reality of drug use in Vermont communities.” 

The City has identified another troubling trend as an increasing number of overdose victims are refusing medical transfer following treatment in the field. While police and fire personnel can administer Narcan, a life-saving opioid antagonist now available over-the-counter, they cannot prescribe or administer Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), such as buprenorphine or methadone. The City is exploring new policies to better facilitate access to MOUD following an overdose, and to expand access to MOUD that is effective for fentanyl users broadly. Other initiatives to respond to the opioid crisis include:  

  • Since 2016 the Mayor has facilitated Community Stat, a monthly meeting of approximately 50-70 individuals including elected leaders, medical providers, members of law enforcement, people with lived experience and family members of people living with SUD, who review recent overdose data and work together to develop policy and systems change.  

  • Increased financial support to the Howard Center to expand the Street Outreach Team.  

  • Mayor Weinberger serves on the state Opioid Settlement Committee which made over $7 million in funding recommendations to the State legislature. These recommendations were in large part funded by bill H.222, passed this year.  

  • Lead funding for Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform (VCJR), an organization headquartered in downtown Burlington that supports justice involved people by providing harm reduction services, contingency management, and assistance initiating MOUD-based treatments during community re-entry following incarceration. 

  • Advocating to the Legislature to remove legal barriers to the creation of Overdose Prevention Sites.  

  • Advocating for state and federal reforms to increase access to methadone, including satellite locations for methadone. H.222 funds a second methadone clinic for Chittenden County. 

  • New personnel at the BPD including Community Service Liaisons who support case management and outreach, and the soon-to-be hired Assistant Director of Crisis, Advocacy, Intervention Programs to better manage and coordinate these efforts. 

  • Creation of Elmwood Emergency Shelter Community which pairs low-barrier shelter with access to robust support services, including contingency management provided by VCJR, peer support recovery meetings facilitated by the Turning Point, routine medical services by Community Health Centers, and medically assisted treatment provided by Safe Recovery. 

Community Stat 

Mayor Weinberger’s monthly forum brings together service providers, policymakers and community members impacted by the overdose crisis to discuss programs and policies related to substance use, harm reduction, treatment, prevention and recovery. This meeting centers discussions on four principles: accurate and timely data and information; effective tactics and strategies; rapid deployment of resources; relentless follow-up and assessment. Community Stat discussions frequently engender cross-sector collaboration to address gaps in Vermont’s system of care for substance use disorder. Information shared at Community Stat – from nationally renowned subject matter experts and local direct service providers – empowers treatment professionals to modify programs to best address increasingly dangerous and unpredictable illicit drug supplies. 

Past successes to strengthen the region’s response to the overdose crisis facilitated by Community Stat include:  

  • Implementation of “no barrier” programs expanding access to medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD). 

  • Dramatic reductions in prescribing rates by UVMMC prescribers. 

  • The addition of rapid MOUD induction services in the UVMMC emergency room and at Safe Recovery. 

  • Comprehensive screening and MOUD prescribing in Vermont’s correctional facilities. 

  • Elimination of waitlists for medication access at Hub and Spoke locations serving Chittenden County residents. 

  • Reduced prior authorization requirements for MOUD among Vermont’s largest health insurance providers, allowing patients and prescribers more flexibility to develop effective treatment plans. 

Emergency Response Data for City of Burlington 

The report also includes year-end data through 2022 on overall responses by the Burlington Police Department (BPD) and Burlington Fire Department (BFD). In 2022, non-discretionary police responses increased by 13% over 2021, following a 17% decline between 2015 and 2021. Overall police incidents, including those initiated by officers, totaled 25,189 in 2022. The City is seeing early benefits from new investments and expansions in public safety staff positions including Community Service Officers and Community Support Liaisons. Since early 2022, responders other than sworn officers have accounted for one in every five BPD responses.  

BFD responses also experienced a sharp yearly increase, with a 17% increase from 8,288 in 2021 to 9,730 in 2022 following much more moderate yearly increases in the prior decade. More than half of all BFD responses are medical. 


Press Release Date: 
City Department: 
Mayor's Office