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Vermont, We’ve Got a Problem

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Just how bad are prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction? How about a governor devoting his entire state of the state speech to the subject? Last week, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire state of the state address to discussing heroin, opiates, overdoses and what it means for people in his state. Granted, Vermont is a small state, but the drug problems it is facing are just a smaller version of those faced across the country. When you are concerned about opiates and heroin, you see news of it everywhere.  You know the stories of suburbanites switching to heroin when they can’t afford prescription painkillers. But if people are not affected by opiate abuse, they might not realize a problem exists or that it has led to a resurgence of heroin use. But that could change now, at least in New England. State of the state speeches are often used to set a legislative agenda, do some back-patting and cover more traditional state concerns like taxes or education. But Shumlin’s address went over every issue of opiates and heroin affecting Vermont. The number of deaths and overdoses has skyrocketed and more than 500 people are waiting for treatment. Shumlin spoke about needing to see opiates as a health crisis, not just a law enforcement issue. Right now, people seeking treatment within Vermont have to wait. Shumlin would like to address the problem with better access to treatment and a streamlined court process for drugs. Despite these goals, a disconnect still exists. State Representative Heidi Scheuermann said to the New York Times: “We do have to tackle addiction, but people day after day are asking me about healthcare.” Understanding addiction as a disease and making it a part of the conversation on healthcare is a huge step. Governor Shumlin’s address should take the people of Vermont a good way down the road to focusing on the problem.

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