In his recent headline-making State of the State address, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin made it very clear that the opiate addiction problem in the state is one of his top priorities. To bolster his position, he cited some alarming statistics, such as a 770% increase in treatment for opiates since the year 2000.
Heroin addiction among the chief concerns, as that is the fastest-rising drug addiction problem in the state. While heroin treatment admissions have skyrocketed, so have the federal indictments against heroin dealers in the last few years. Perhaps the most troubling statistic is that the number of heroin overdose deaths has nearly doubled in the past year.
Governor Shumlin also stated that Vermont spends more money on locking up citizens than it does to support colleges and universities since the prison budget has doubled in less than a decade. “You do not have to be a math major to realize that we can’t afford our current path. We have to figure out how to spend taxpayer money more wisely, while we treat the disease more effectively,” he said.
Shumlin proposed four main areas to target resources toward turning around the drug problem in their state. The first was to treat drug addiction as an immediate health crisis and increase treatment capacity right away with more new facilities and funding for existing programs.
The second part was to be smarter with the criminal justice system, which included a two-prong approach. He recommended stiffening punishment for people trafficking in drugs from out of state to prey on residents, while providing better screening and treatment services for people who are arrested to be able to be diverted into treatment programs when appropriate.
The third part was to have a stronger, more coordinated law enforcement team to help combat those people committing crimes against others and deal with them accordingly.
The final piece is a heavy focus on prevention. Governor Shumlin exclaimed there wasn’t a national model to follow, which is unfortunately true, and so his office will facilitate a statewide community forum to find better ways of preventing substance abuse and addiction.
Governor Shumulin is correct in stating that properly invested dollars into treatment, prevention and criminal justice reform can not only help turn around that addiction-related statistics, but also wind up saving taxpayers much more money through this legislative and executive intervention.