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PEAR Vermont Advocacy Update

Mental Health & Substance Use and Misuse Priorities
Legislative Session 2016, Week 6

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Key Issues

Budget Questions
Just a couple of weeks ago the Governor presented his budget to the legislature. As things are rolling out it is not a rosy scenario for that budget – a budget that attempts to bridge a gap of $68 million. House Appropriations and some policy committees are deep in the budget review process. It is not a pretty picture. The Governor’s Medicaid cut for pregnant women, his provider tax and the streamlined court ordered medication of mental health patients [see below] were all encountering varying degrees of heavy weather. These plans alone, if all were rejected, would leave a $16 million gap in the budget.

Legislature: FY2017 Governor’s Budget Proposal
VTDigger: Montpelier Sneak Peek: Budget Holes Emerge

Involuntary Medication Controversy Continues
Last week’s update noted the unhappiness in House Human Services concerning the expedited process for involuntary medication of mental health patients. Well, sparks are still flying. Committee Chair Ann Pugh did not hold back. “I’ll be very straightforward with you guys,” she said to Commissioner Frank Reed from the Department of Mental Health, “The recommendation to Appropriations will be to take this out of the budget bill.”

According to the administration the streamlined court process could save as much as $5 million. There was more debate at a public hearing held at the Waterbury State Office complex. Even though he acknowledged to the House Committee some surprise at the administration’s push for the changes, Commissioner Reed argued in Waterbury that an expedited process was actually in the patient’s best interest. Doctors’ testimony at the public hearing tended to agree, while others passionately dissented, sighting an abrogation of due process for patients. Back in the Committee the Chair indicated that they would continue to look at the issue. Pugh expressed some frustration about the failure of the administration to consult various stakeholders – such as the judiciary, patients and legislators – calling that failure a “travesty.”

VTDigger: Panel Looks to Ditch Involuntary Medication Plan From Budget

Further Fumes Follow-Up: A Clarification
Our report on smoking in residential treatment facilities says that the Department of Mental Health is postponing implementation for one year. Wrong. We failed to quote the Vermont Department of Health official policy. This is the statement that was issued to the providers. “The Agency of Human Services will not take any remedial action against the designated agencies or preferred providers for failure to achieve 100 percent tobacco-free facilities by July 1, 2015. Over the next several weeks ADAP will work with the provider agencies to develop a clear plan for working towards tobacco free environments as well as a future agreed upon date for full implementation.”

Sniffer Dogs Redundant?
The Rutland Herald/Times Argus reported this week that, in a decision related to the move toward marijuana legalization, Vermont’s police dogs are no longer being trained to sniff out the aromatic drug. This year’s K-9 class will be the first in which there will be no marijuana training. If legalization does not happen then the dogs can be trained later. The opposite is not true. A dog trained to sniff marijuana cannot be retrained to not recognize it. New dogs are being started tracking cocaine. So legalization will have another cost to law enforcement. All the current drug sniffer dogs will have to be replaced. But the old dogs can learn new tricks. They can still be used to sniff out marijuana in prisons and schools.

Read More: Vermont Police Dogs Won’t Search for Pot

Shumlin Super Bowl
In a letter to two big drug companies Governor Shumlin challenged them to stop using an ad that he feels promotes the use of opioid pain meds. The ad – designed to combat constipation caused by opioids – was run during the Super Bowl last Sunday. Shumlin’s letter called the ad a “shameful attempt to exploit” the opiate crisis for company profits. The two drug companies are AstraZeneca and Daiichi-Sankyo. They have acknowledged receipt of the letter but have made no further comment. One of the creators of the ad has commented, however, saying that the drug in question is designed to help patients who are using opioids under a doctor’s care. The Burlington Police weighed in on Shumlin’s side, particularly noting the placement of the ad on the most watched program of the year.

BFP Coverage, Support and Ad: Shumlin: Retract Super Bowl Opiate Ad
FiercePhrama: AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo Field Backlash Over Super Bowl OIC Awareness Ad

Pot Moves On
After stalling in the Senate Finance Committee the marijuana bill was voted out of committee on Friday. Issues that were considered by the committee included the possibility that the state would have to go into debt to jumpstart the program. Though the sale of licenses would bring in some revenue in 2017, any remaining costs would have to be carried over in some fashion. The Finance Committee final version of the bill had not been posted Friday afternoon, but we assume the goal is still to have the bill on the floor of the Senate next week. Details to follow.

Further Reading: Gov. Shumlin Statement on Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Vermont
From the Dept. of Health: Health Impact Assessment: Marijuana Regulation in Vermont


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