In 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his entire State of the State Address to the opiate epidemic, and urging his fellow lawmakers to help make a difference. Nearly 18 months later, the state has massively increased treatment spending, but there is still a lot of work to be done, Shumlin says.
Vermont’s revised drug program emphasized treatment rather than legal consequences, Shumlin said. It also involved building more treatment centers, and distributing heroin rescue kits throughout the community.
“We seized the opportunity to change the system to one that deals with this as a disease, like cancer or kidney disease, or any other health challenge,” Shumlin told the Huffington Post recently.
Since implementing the changes, Vermont has seen a drop in the number of young addicts. However, Shumlin is slow to celebrate that as success.
“I believe that use numbers go up and down,” he said. “But with all of our extraordinary efforts to treat opiate addiction as a disease, change attitudes about the disease, get rid of waiting lines for treatment and stop letting people die of overdoses, I’m not sure that any of us have truly choked off the supply of addicts signing up for this disease.”
To truly make a difference, a bigger discussion is needed, he said.
“Why do we have so many people addicted to opiates and heroin? It is directly related to the day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved OxyContin and we started passing it out like candy. Until we have a real conversation about painkillers in America, and how we deal with pain, I believe we are going to see more people signing up for addiction.”
Read more of Shumlin’s interview and learn about Vermont’s initiative in the Huffington Post.