Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin yesterday devoted his entire 34-minute "State of the State" address to a thoughtful discussion of Vermont's heroin epidemic. As he points out below, nearly 80% of Vermont’s prison inmates are jailed on drug related charges.
Here are some terrific excerpts:
“. . . as Chief Justice Reiber and so many others who are in the thick of this struggle have concluded, we must bolster our current approach to addiction with more common sense. We must address it as a public health crisis, providing treatment and support, rather than simply doling out punishment, claiming victory, and moving onto our next conviction. . . .
“We must do for this disease what we do for cancer, diabetes, heart, and other chronic illness: first, aim for prevention, and then eradicate any disease that develops with aggressive treatment. . . .
“Nearly 80% of our incarcerated population are either addicted or in prison because of their addiction. And listen to this math: a week in prison in Vermont costs about $1,120, but $123 will buy a week of treatment for a heroin addict at a state-funded center. Today, our state government spends more to imprison Vermonters than we do to support our colleges and universities, and our prison spending has doubled in the last nine years. You do not have to be a math major to realize that we can’t afford our current path. . . .”
The governor called for a four part strategy, including developing new treatment capacity, diverting abusers from prison into monitored treatment, improved heroin tracking and enforcement, and school-based and physician-based prevention efforts.
“. . . I know that we have more work to do to provide the right treatment and support to those who are addicted, not just using maintenance drugs as a Band-Aid for this complicated disease. I also know that treatment facilities have not always been embraced by our local communities. But 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 back yards. . . .
“In this new system, a third-party team chosen in conjunction with local prosecutors, defense counsel and court personnel but contracted through the State would promptly, after arrest, conduct an evidence-based risk and needs assessment for prosecutors, defense counsel, and our judges. Our state’s attorneys in every county will be enabled to establish a rapid intervention program, paid for by the State, where those addicts accused of drug-fueled crimes could agree to seek immediate treatment for their disease and avoid criminal prosecution if they successfully adhere to the strict requirements imposed. . . . “
In its coverage of the speech, the New York Times quoted the chairman of Vermont’s Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Sears, as praising the move while state representative Heidi Scheuermann wondered why the governor hadn’t spoken more about the issue of healthcare.
Addiction treatment is healthcare, isn’t it?