NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Democratic Attorney General candidate TJ Donovan released a plan Tuesday to combat prescription drug abuse, an issue that has taken center stage in the Democratic primary this month.
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Donovan, the current Chittenden County state's attorney, has focused on combating prescription drug abuse and the ancillary crimes it leads to throughout the primary campaign. Law enforcement officials around the state, including in Bennington, have said prescription drug abuse is on the rise. On Tuesday, Donovan released a plan he said will help address the problem and reduce overdoses and deaths.
His plan calls for a "good Samaritan law" that would allow anyone who has overdosed on a prescription drug to seek emergency medical attention without the fear of prosecution.
"We can no longer turn away from the epidemic that is killing our neighbors. Vermont cannot afford to lose another life in this battle against addiction," Donovan said in a statement. "We should not prosecute those who seek sanctuary in this way for the pills in their pocket."
Donovan has been endorsed by Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary, as well as Rep. William Lippert, D-Chittenden, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Donovan said he hopes to move quickly on the Samaritan law if elected.
"I've talked with Sen. Sears in the past, and I'm hopeful its something we can move forward on in the next session," he said.
Donovan said the state has focused on being tough on crime. But the state's laws and policies must also be "smart on crime," and focus on treatment and support services. Law enforcement throughout the state must also be aware of addiction issues, he said.
Donovan also said the state must improve drug screening. He said he is promising to work with medical professionals to prevent patients addicted to prescription drugs from filling multiple prescriptions.
"I think there's a lot of doctor shopping going on," Donovan said in a telephone interview. "I do think that as we try to develop these alternative systems of justice that screening is a major part of it."
Additional beds for treatment and rehabilitation of addicts is also needed, according to Donovan. He said he plans to work with the Department of Health and the Shumlin administration to ensure treatment beds are available for people who are better suited for that than incarceration.
Donovan said incarcerating a person for a day in Vermont costs between $150 and $175. Sending a person to a treatment program costs $95 per day, he said.
"It's cheaper, it's better for public safety and it's better for the individual," Donovan said. "It's not saying give us more money, it's saying, let's reinvest the money."
Finally, Donovan said he will push for state-sponsored pill take-back days throughout Vermont. Several areas, including Bennington County, already utilize federal funding for such a program. But Donovan said he plans to work with law enforcement officials, pharmacists and medical professionals to implement a system for secure disposal of prescription drugs.