vermont drug crisis
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Vermont’s View on Drug Addiction

The state of Vermont has been hit especially hard by the addiction epidemic with lawmakers and public officials, like Governor Shumlin, trying to develop more effective ways of combatting the state’s rising drug problem.

Has the Addiction Epidemic Hit Vermont the Hardest?

According to conservative estimates by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of reported heroin users in the United States doubled from 380,000 to 670,000 between 2005 and 2012 while annual overdose deaths have increased by about 50 percent. However, in the state of Vermont annual overdose deaths actually doubled. Additionally, the number of individuals who have sought treatment for opioid addiction has increased by an astounding 770 percent since 2000.

Surveys found that more than 15 percent of Vermont residents admitted to abusing illicit drugs at least once in the past month, which is 50 percent higher than the national average and more than 10 percent higher than Utah. Surveys also found that Vermont ranked especially high in not just one or two drugs, but in all substances, ranging from marijuana to cocaine.

Due to the especially high rates of addiction in Vermont, many have begun to wonder what it is that’s happening in Vermont to cause such significantly higher rates of addiction. According to the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, the factors that contribute to elevated addiction rates include cold weather than make individuals more likely to abuse substances, a tendency toward liberal and tolerant attitudes, higher and more disposable incomes, proximity to larger cities, and even politics.

In 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his annual State of the State address to the addiction epidemic, referring to it as “crisis bubbling just beneath the surface.” As such, the Governor Shumlin allocated as many resources as possible to fighting Vermont’s addiction crisis and suggested that the so-called “War on Drugs” has actually made the addiction problem worse.

Could the War on Drugs Be Making Things Worse?

Although Vermont has shown to have elevated rates of abuse of many different substances, marijuana remains the most widely abused substance. In fact, an estimated 13 percent of Vermont residents regularly smoke marijuana compared to 10.8 percent of Americans as a whole. Vermont Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Barbara Cimaglio has suggested that state-level policy has contributed to more widespread illicit drug use and, therefore, perpetuated the addiction epidemic in a major way.

According to Cimaglio, the states that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana have shown to have elevated rates of illicit abuse of marijuana as well as other drugs. However, Governor Shumlin’s views oppose Cimaglio’s in that Governor Shumlin believes the “War on Drugs” has been a major instigator of the addiction crisis. Instead of criminalizing addiction and punishing addicts, Govenor Shumlin signed a bill to legalize marijuana while focusing on making treatment available to those individuals who suffer from heroin addiction.

Vermont Governor Shumlin Has a Plan: Treating Addiction as Public Health Crisis

Addiction has become a major problem for virtually every state, but the deadly disease has been working to rip Vermont apart from the inside. In order to curb the exceedingly high rates of addiction throughout the state, Vermont Governor Shumlin developed a plan that involved several parts.

According to Shumlin’s plan, addicted offenders would be offered the choice to receive addiction treatment at an actual drug rehab instead of serving a prison sentence, there would be better access to opioid replacement drugs—such as methadone and Suboxone—for both addicts as well as prison inmates, individuals who call 911 due to a friend’s overdose would have immunity from prosecution under a “Good Samaritan” law, and naloxone would be made readily available to emergency first-responders so that they can effectively treat cases of opioid overdose.

Treating addiction more as a public health concern rather than a wave of criminal activity, it’s Shumlin’s hope that individuals will receive more effective treatments that will allow them to achieve lasting sobriety while dramatically reducing addiction rates in Vermont. In the short time since Governor Shumlin put his plan into motion, it would seem that the state of Vermont is getting on the right track.

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