On Monday, Jan. 13, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) joined us to explain just why he spent his entire state of the state speech this month focused on what he called a crisis "of great concern to [his] state’s future" — the abuse of opiates and heroin. It was a moving and remarkable speech that sent many national observers spinning.
During our hour, Gov. Shumlin also stressed how opiate and heroin addiction is more than just a Vermont problem. You can listen to and read the text of Gov. Shumlin's On Point comments below.
You can also turn to some resources from our guest Caleb Banta-Green, a research scientist and epidemiologist at the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, for abuse counselling, advice and treatment.
"Tom, it's really important to remember that this affects all income categorizes, and all families, regardless of income. Now obviously, a lack of hope and a lack of opportunity is more likely to drive you to this kind of addiction. But listen, I've got this problem in my areas where we've got low incomes folks living, and where we've got this problem in areas where I've got high income folks living. It can affect anyone. And the interesting thing is, since I've raised this issue across the state, I just left my local Chamber of Commerce, Champlain Chamber here in Burlington. You know every time now I go into a crowd of 60-70 people, I have at least three or four that come up to me and say, 'Thank you, my son's addicted, my daughter's addicted. This is our problem, these are our kids, and it affects all incomes.'"
"I have no doubt in my mind that when we chose to legalize opiates in pill form as we see in Oxycontin and in other pain killers, we made a decision to make opiates available in ways that we hadn't in the past. And if we think that's there's not a link between F.D.A.-approved and what people are buying on the streets, then we aren't looking at reality.
"We all know that there are a lot of reasons that drive addictions. And we've always had addiction challenges, whether it's with alcohol or anything else. I think what's changed is, that we really do treat opiates through F.D.A. approved drugs as if it's an option that should be made available for almost any pain or discomfort. And if we're gonna do that, we have to accept the fact that opiates are extremely addictive. It's apparently a high that is like no other. And I believe that this epidemic is being drive by a government approach to pain killers.
"It doesn't work. We continue to lose the 'War on Drugs' and at some point you gotta pause and say, 'What are we doing wrong?' Here's what I think we're doing wrong. With opiates, you have a very small window to convince people that treatment is a better option that addiction. You know, folks are addicted to opiates are the best deniers and the best liars that you'll ever meet. And the bottom line is, it's when the blue lights are flashing , when you've been busted, when you're down and out, that you're most likely to go to treatment. And in Vermont, and the most other 49 states if they're like Vermont, our court system is not set up to deal with that moment of opportunity. So what we're gonna try do here is move our judicial system so that our prosecutors have a third-party independent assessment that figures out whether you're an addict — someone that we should be disappointed in perhaps, angry at perhaps, but not fearful of — or whether you're someone we should fear. If you're someone we should fear, we're gonna put you through the old court system and lock you up. If you're someone that we might be mad at or disappointed in but think you can be treated, we'll offer you treatment right there. And if you agree with it, and then you comply with it, we're gonna spend the money to follow you closely and give you the services just like heart disease, kidney disease, any other health care challenge, then you'll never go through the court system.
"You know this is not a cheery subject to talk about. So no one's saying 'Hey thanks for being so cheery, Governor!' But this is what they are saying, they're saying 'Listen, we recognize that we have this problem in our community, probably in every area of the country, but I'm pleased that we have the commitment from all of us to work together to come up with a solution to what is a health care crisis and stop the denial.'"
Do Gov. Shumlin's comments on opiate and heroin addiction ring true in your community? Have you seen what addiction can do? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.