This January, Vermont’s  governor, Peter Shumlin, gave his State of the State Address, a good portion of which focused on Vermont’s opiate addiction crisis.

  • In the last year, opiate-related deaths in the state have doubled.
  • The number of people seeking treatment in Vermont has increased over 700% since 2000.
  • 80 percent of the state’s inmates are incarcerated for drug-related crimes.
  • In the last nine years, spending on prisons has doubled.
  • A  week in a Vermont prison costs $1,120; a week of treatment for a heroin addict costs $123.
  • The governor proposed changes in the budget to shift funds to treatment  and away from prisons.

On the other hand, Vermont’s independent newsletter, Seven Days, countered the governor’s statistics in  Diagnosing the Drug Deal: Did Shumlin Overstate the Case for Vermont’s Opiate “Crisis”?” with some of the following points:

  • A 2013 Vermont Department of Health report found the number of people hospitalized for opiate overdoses in the preceding 10 years has remained “consistent.”
  • The actual number of drug-related deaths in Vermont has not changed significantly since 2006, and dropped eight percent from 2011 to 2013. The Department of Health said it could discern “no specific trend” in opiate deaths in the past decade. (In 2013, as Shumlin noted, the number of heroin deaths nearly doubled, from nine to 17. Deaths from prescription opiates fell from 46 to 39.)
  • Vermont health researchers claim other issues are just as severe — or worse — than opiate abuse. In 2012, the health department’s State Epidemiological Outcomes identified “clearly and unambiguously” three problems merited top prioritization: “… underage drinking, high-risk drinking and marijuana use.”
  • Alcohol was identified as the number one problem they found in every data set. The data suggest that alcohol and marijuana are more significant in terms of burden on the system,” state police estimate that $2 million in heroin and opiates makes its way into the state every week.

The Seven Days article did not argue against the proposed budget changes, but suggested that priority be given to alcohol problems.

And finally:

  • Pill use is rampant nationwide among 15-to-25-year-olds nationwide—Xanax, Percocet, and Oxycontin are the chief culprits.

With the “war on drugs” clearly failing after more than forty years, Governor Shumlin’s recognition of a need for a new approach—and the willingness to take action—is a welcome change; hopefully, more prominent and influential people will support this and help move it forward.

What are your thoughts on the War on Drugs?

Do you think it has been effective or do you agree that it is time for a new approach? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on the  Ocean Breeze Recovery Facebook page.

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