Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jan 2014
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2014 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.
Author: Wilson Ring, The Associated Press


Governor Devotes Speech to It, Seeks Additional $10m to Deal With

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Behind the facade of pristine ski slopes, craft
beer, quaint village greens and one of the lowest unemployment rates
in the country, Vermont is grappling with painkiller and heroin abuse,
a challenge leaders say is fueling crime and wrecking lives and
families disproportionately in this tiny state.

Nearly every day, police across Vermont respond to burglaries or armed
robberies investigators believe are prompted by the unslakable hunger
for money to feed heroin or pill habits. In many cases, law
enforcement officials say, what began as the abuse of prescription
drugs has turned into heroin use because it's less expensive and, more
recently, easier to get.

Federal statistics rank Vermont among the top 10 states for the abuse
of painkillers and illicit drug use other than marijuana - including
heroin - for people ages 18 to 25.

Gov. Peter Shumlin took the unusual step of highlighting the challenge
by devoting almost his entire State of the State address to it, and he
called in his budget proposal Wednesday for $10 million in new
spending on the problem.

In his address, he described the drug abuse as "a crisis bubbling just
beneath the surface" and called on the Legislature to pass laws
encouraging treatment and to seek ideas on the best way to prevent
people from becoming addicted in the first place. He also called for
stiffer penalties for traffickers and people who use weapons in drug

"Anyone who doesn't believe that they have an opiate challenge in
their state is in denial," Shumlin said in an interview with The
Associated Press the day after his speech. "The point is that if we
can shift from our belief, our fantasy, that we can solve all of these
problems with law enforcement, we' ll go a long way toward solving the
problem. This is primarily a public health crisis."

Vermonters have no ready explanation for the rise in drug use. The
state has consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the
country, but in his speech, Shumlin said the underlying cause of
addiction was "a lack of hope and opportunity" that he proposed
counteracting with good jobs and "the best early education in America."

Many prescription painkillers belong to a class of drugs known as
opioids, which also includes heroin, codeine and methadone. Many
states are reporting increasing heroin problems as an unintended
byproduct of efforts to crack down on painkiller abuse that didn't
include treatment of the underlying addiction, said Sherry Green,
executive director of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

"What they are doing, they are shifting to heroin because if they are
already addicted to opiates they are going to ... switch to the next
best thing, which is heroin," she said.  
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