The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

January 15, 2014

Heroin and pill abuse stir a battle cry in Vermont

(Continued)

— It ranks second in the country for the rate of people being treated for opiate abuse, the Vermont Health Department says.

— Over the past five years, the number of serious drug crimes rose 46 percent, according to a study released in October by the Justice Center of the Council on State Governments.

— Last year, the number of heroin overdose deaths almost doubled from nine to 17. And the number of heroin dealers indicted at the request of Vermont's federal prosecutors increased rose more than five times between 2010 and 2013.

— From 2009 through 2012, the number of calls reporting suspected child abuse or neglect caused by drug abuse to the Vermont Department of Children and Families increased about 38 percent, from 3,293 to 4,555, said Commissioner Dave Yacovone.

Vermonters have no ready explanation for the rise in drug use. The state has consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but in his speech, Shumlin said the underlying cause of addiction was "a lack of hope and opportunity" that he proposed counteracting with good jobs and "the best early education in America."

Many prescription painkillers belong to a class of drugs known as opioids, which also includes heroin, codeine and methadone. Many states are reporting increasing heroin problems as an unintended byproduct of efforts to crack down on painkiller abuse that didn't include treatment of the underlying addiction, said Sherry Green, executive director of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

"What they are doing, they are shifting to heroin because if they are already addicted to opiates they are going to ... switch to the next best thing, which is heroin," she said.

Shumlin wants the Legislature to expand treatment and recovery programs, and create a system that would allow some addicts to be sent for treatment immediately after their first contacts with law enforcement. He wants to emphasize treatment and search for ways to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place.

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