Vermont is known to many as the home of charming bed and breakfasts and great ski resorts. Because of its quaint image, many observers from outside of the Green Mountain State were surprised when Governor Peter Shumlin devoted the entirety of his 33-minute State of the State speech to addressing the state’s heroin epidemic that he referred to as “full blown.”
“In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” Gov. Shumlin said in the speech. “The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards, while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards.”
According to the governor, the number of Vermonters being treated for opiate addiction had increased by over 700 percent since 2000 and the number of overdose deaths doubled between 2011 and 2012. He also noted that the nationwide crackdown on prescription drug abuse, while successful, may have taken the focus away from street drugs like heroin. In addition, former painkiller addicts may turn to heroin once they can no longer access or afford pills.
In an interview with The New York Times, Vermont’s health commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said that rural northern New England has been hit especially hard by the heroin scourge because law enforcement is spotty and addicts are willing to pay top prices.
During the speech the governor also made a plea to the state’s legislature to provide money for treatment programs for addicts instead of incarceration. He also proposed tougher penalties for high-volume heroin dealers who are convicted.