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Vermont Shifts its Approach in Dealing with Heroin Abuse Epidemic

Heroin - The Bergand Group

Heroin abuse is a problem in many places in the country, but perhaps nowhere more so than Vermont. Among a population of 627,000, 15% said they used heroin in the past month in surveys conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2010-2011, which amounts to nearly 100,000 people. Plagued by a heroin epidemic which has swept through the state in the past decade or so, the state is taking drastic measures to combat the disease which has afflicted so many in the state.

Treatment Over Punishment

In a shift away from the “war on drugs” policy which has informed many states’ approaches to drug use, Vermont is shifting to an approach that focuses more on treating the heroin epidemic as a public health crisis. The number of people receiving treatment for heroin addiction has increased by 250% since 2000. While this number reflects the large number of people who are addicted to heroin, it also reflects this changing approach. In his state of the state address earlier this year, the state’s governor Peter Shumlin stated, “We must address it as a public health crisis, providing treatment and support rather than simply doling out punishment, claiming victory, and moving on to our next conviction.”

This isn’t to say that the state is completely relaxing its stance on heroin. While the emphasis will be on treatment for addicts, the state is cracking down on dealers and traffickers. “In 2013 the number of people charged with heroin trafficking in federal court in Vermont increased 135 percent from the year before, according to federal records.”

But for addicts, the state hopes that new policies will help them fight the disease which affects 15% of the state. People who are arrested for using or possessing heroin will be able to choose enrolling in treatment to avoid being prosecuted. The state also will expand access to substances such as naloxone and suboxone in order to help addicts wean themselves off. Naloxone will be available without a prescription, and will be carried by police and EMTs in the event they encounter an overdose. Users who call an ambulance for someone who has overdosed will be protected from arrest by a Good Samaritan law.

Though the effects of these policies remain to be seen, the state is optimistic that they will help the population turn a new corner in the fight against this epidemic.

The Bergand Group is an addiction treatment center located in Baltimore, MD. Our focus is on providing comprehensive mental health care and appropriate care for addictive disorders, including addiction counseling in Baltimore County. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or substance addiction, there is help available. To speak with someone at our office, please call us at 410-853-7691. You can also contact us via email, and follow us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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