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Gov. Phil Scott vetoes bill that would establish overdose prevention center in Burlington

An opioid overdose rescue kit includes instructions for administering naloxone.
Jim Cole
Vermont Department of Health
An opioid overdose rescue kit includes instructions for administering naloxone.

Gov. Phil Scott Thursday evening vetoed a bill that would both allow for and fund the state's first overdose prevention center.

Supporters of the legislation are vowing to override the veto.

The bill, called H.72, sets up a pilot site in Burlington where individuals would be able to use illegal drugs under medical supervision. Overdose reversing medication would also be available. Advocates say overdose prevention centers, sometimes called safe injection sites, can help prevent fatal overdoses and provide touch points for people with substance use disorder to seek help.

In his veto message to lawmakers, Scott said money for the project would be better spent on existing programs.

"While these sites are well-intentioned, this costly experiment will divert financial resources from proven prevention, treatment and recovery strategies, as well as harm reduction initiatives that facilitate entry into treatment rather than continued use," he said. "While it may consolidate the widespread drug use in Burlington into a smaller area within the city, it will come at the expense of the treatment and recovery needs of other communities, for whom such a model will not work."

Scott has consistently opposed overdose prevention centers. He vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature in 2022 that would have cleared the path for the facilities.

Earlier this year, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, said the state would benefit from introducing overdose prevention sites, but that people should not be under the impression that they are a “panacea.”

Sen. Ginny Lyons, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said the state needs to take a new approach to help prevent future deaths.

"It will allow for us to determine — will overdose protection centers reduce crime, save lives most importantly, and then allow for folks to seek treatment and support services," she said.

In a statement, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth called Scott's veto "a loss of nerve with regard to harm reduction, one final obstacle for all of us who are committed to exploring every possible path to accelerate the end of the opioid crisis."

Lawmakers will return to Montpelier on June 17 to consider a number of bills that Scott has vetoed this session.

More from Vermont Public: Here are the bills vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott

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Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Brittany Patterson joined Vermont Public in December 2020. Previously, she was an energy and environment reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Valley ReSource. Prior to that, she covered public lands, the Interior Department and forests for E&E News' ClimateWire, based in Washington, D.C. Brittany also teaches audio storytelling and has taught classes at West Virginia University, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont. She holds degrees in journalism from San Jose State University and U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. A native of California, Brittany has fallen in love with Vermont. She enjoys hiking, skiing, baking and cuddling with her rescues, a 95-pound American Bulldog mix named Cooper, and Mila, the most beautiful calico cat you'll ever meet.
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