Vermont Governor Blames Feds For Ongoing Opiate Crisis

By McCarton Ackerman 09/04/15

Governor Peter Shumlin faulted the feds for being "partners" with Big Pharma.

Governor Peter Shumlin
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Eighteen months after Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to the heroin crisis plaguing his state, he expressed satisfaction about the progress that’s been made while also blaming the federal government for some of the nation's continuing drug issues.

Since that speech in January 2014, Shumlin has signed bills that included allotting $6.7 million to create a “hub and spoke” treatment program of central facilities and small treatment outposts, as well as a medication-assisted addiction therapy program. He also increased sentences for drug traffickers, created new regulations for prescribing and monitoring prescription drugs, and gave people arrested for possession the option to receive treatment instead of criminal prosecution.

“I kept having [people] saying addiction is going on in our families. So I went into the prisons, talked to addicts, recovery folks, law enforcement, the judiciary ... And what I learned was that we were doing almost everything wrong,” said Shumlin. “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.”

One year after the speech, state officials showed that medically assisted drug treatment had increased by 40%, while 75% of those who completed treatment showed improvement in their overall health. However, the demand for qualified clinicians and health-care professionals has still remained high and the heroin crisis is still listed as a primary issue.

Shumlin believes that since the state has done all they can, some of the responsibility for addressing this problem now lies with the federal government.

“I think that the federal government and the FDA are partners with the pharmaceutical industry in creating the opiate crisis,” he said. “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.”

However, Shumlin is picking his battles when it comes to the war on drugs in Vermont. He is largely stepping away from stopping the move to legalize marijuana across the state and believes it shouldn’t be a high priority.

“I don’t think it’s prudent for a small state like Vermont to spend precious law enforcement dollars chasing down small amounts of marijuana,” he said. “I would ask a simple question: If marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin, what are the FDA-approved opiates that we hand out like candy?”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.