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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Burlington Officials Hope Data-Driven Approach Can End City's Opiate Crisis

Taylor Dobbs
Burlington's opioid policy coordinator, Jackie Corbally, is heading up the city's CommunityStat program. Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, and Police Chief Brandon del Pozo, right, say the program's goal is to end the "opiate crisis" in Burlington.

Officials in Burlington announced a new program Thursday with the goal of ending the opiate crisis in the city.

“We will be relentless until our city and its people are free from the grip of the opioid crisis,” said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo.

And he's not just talking tough –  that is the mission statement of the city's new program, CommunityStat, or CommStat for short.

Officials described CommStat as a data-driven approach to solving problems in the community.

The system came from the New York Police Department, and Burlington is putting it to use with a specific focus on opiates.

Martha Maksym is the executive director of the United Way of Northern Vermont, which is part of the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance.

Maksym describes the new effort as a way to coordinate the wide range of community services involved in opiate treatment and prevention “so that there's agreement and clarity around what is the problem – 'What is our goal for solving this problem? How will we know whether we're getting there or not? How will we know if this investment of resources is really making a difference?' –  and then how do we make sure all the activities support each other and in fact don't work at cross-purposes?”

Driving the effort is Jackie Corbally, the City of Burlington's new opioid policy coordinator.

"We have an epidemic in this country, in this state, in this city. People are dying, kids are being taken from their homes, people are being incarcerated, families and communities are being ripped apart." - Jackie Corbally, Burlington opioid policy coordinator

Corbally acknowledges that taking a comprehensive approach to solving opiate problems isn't new in Vermont — it was the focus of Gov. Peter Shumlin's State of the State address in 2014 — but she says the four major principles of CommStat will help.

The four core principles of CommStat are:

  • Accurate and timely data and information
  • Effective tactics and strategies
  • Rapid deployment of resources
  • Relentless follow-up and assessment

“Those four principles really call people around the table to have conversations around what's not working and what is working,” Corbally said.
One thing that's not working, Corbally said, is waiting lists for treatment. Officials are hoping CommStat will bring an end to wait-lists for opiate treatment services in the state's largest city.

The data-driven approach is just beginning, but Mayor Miro Weinberger and other officials are working to put together specific accountability measures that define what success looks like, by the numbers. But even without that, Corbally says it's clear what the problem looks like, and she hopes the new program will serve as a model for putting it to an end.

“We have an epidemic in this country, in this state, in this city," she says. "People are dying, kids are being taken from their homes, people are being incarcerated, families and communities are being ripped apart. And it is such a privilege to be in a position to help shift the change in the work that we are doing in order to address this issue, and with the ultimate goal of being a leader for the country on how a city is going to come together with its partners and move forward.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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