Scourge of Heroin Abuse in Vermont Mirrors National Epidemic

Jan 9, 2014 2:52pm

The governor of Vermont devoted his entire State of the State speech on Wednesday to address the scourge of heroin abuse, a problem he described as a “full blown… crisis” in his state, but which is also spreading across the country.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, described an epidemic that “may be invisible to many,” but which has increased in his state by 770 percent since 2000.

Vermont is more often associated with maple trees and dairy farmers than heroin addicts, but the problem is draining state health and law enforcement resources, the governor said.

“In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” he said. The governor argued that the state needs to change its emphasis from policing to treating heroin abuse like a disease that requires treatment.

“The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards,”  Shumlin said, “while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards.”

The governor said as abuse of prescription painkillers has fallen, and heroin abuse has increased. Across the country state agencies are registering a similar trend, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In 2013, the number of deaths from heroin in Vermont doubled, according to the governor and there were twice as many federal indictments against heroin dealers than in the prior two years.

Nationally, heroin abuse has also dramatically increased in recent years. In 2002, 166,000 Americans said they had used heroin. In 2012, that number skyrocketed to 335,000.

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Heroin addicts shoot heroin in a plywood shack built above the Brooklyn Queens Expressway in New York, April 1, 1992. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis Caption)

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