Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin on Wednesday said the state is suffering from a “full-blown heroin crisis,” The New York Times reports. In his State of the State Message, Governor Shumlin said he wants officials to respond to addiction as a chronic disease. He focused his entire speech on drug addiction and its consequences.
He called on the state to treat heroin addiction with treatment and support, instead of punishment and incarceration. “In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” he said. “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.”
In 2013, almost twice as many people in Vermont died from heroin overdoses as the previous year. Health officials and police around the country have reported a significant rise in overdoses and crime due to heroin. The trend is due in part to people switching from prescription painkillers, which have become more difficult to obtain and abuse.
The governor said every week, more than $2 million worth of heroin and other opiates are trafficked in Vermont. Almost 80 percent of the state’s inmates are jailed on drug-related charges. He asked for more funding for treatment programs, which he said is more cost-effective than incarceration. He also called for allowing people addicted to heroin to receive treatment as soon as they are arrested. Shumlin also wants tougher laws for high-volume drug dealers.