Vermont Leads the Way in Fight Against Heroin Epidemic

Vermont, which has been battling a heroin epidemic in recent years, has become a model for other states in emphasizing treatment over jail, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

In January 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said the state is suffering from a “full-blown heroin crisis.” In his State of the State Message, Governor Shumlin said he wanted 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.

Governor Shumlin said he became involved in the issue after talking to people in his state. “I found we were doing almost everything wrong,” he told a forum on opioid and heroin addiction at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington on Friday.

He wants to get more people into treatment. The best time to do that, he noted, is “when the blue lights are flashing and the handcuffs are on.”

Nonviolent offenders in Vermont are offered the option of going into treatment instead of jail. They start in one of the state’s new central clinics, then move to a doctor, counselor or therapist closer to their home.

Under Vermont law, people seeking medical help for an overdose are shielded from prosecution for manufacturing or selling drugs. It was the first state to legalize sale of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone over-the-counter in pharmacies, the article notes.

Vermont has come up against some roadblocks in its approach, Shumlin told President Obama at the National Governors Association meeting on Monday. “As you build out treatment, and particularly in rural America, we can’t get enough docs who are able to meet the demand of our waiting lists,” he said. Shumlin said there is a great need to “come up with a more rational approach to prescribing prescription drugs.”