Community solutions, cooperation needed to address opiate addiction


Vermont, like every other state, has an opiate addiction problem.

It’s not something most people like to talk about. But the "Not in my backyard" mentality has been faced with a drug addiction problem that has come around to the front door, knocking. The question is, who’s going to open the door to a solution? The opiate addiction problem here in Bennington and throughout the state is not going away by itself.

What will it take to effectively address the issue here in Bennington as well as in other towns just like ours? Brutal honesty and cooperation amongst state and local agencies, as well as regular citizens was the consensus of a forum that brought together leaders from different sectors of the community to share solutions for the state’s growing drug problem. The daylong forum was held at the Statehouse on Monday (see related story on page 1A). Led by Gov. Peter Shumlin and attended by about 100 community leaders -- including about 10 from Bennington -- the forum was a day of open discussion about what’s working in individual towns -- and what isn’t.

"We’re all a little bit different throughout the state, but you will need to work collaboratively, and that’s the real takeaway from Rutland’s story, frankly," said Rutland Mayor Chris Louras.

What will need to happen is law enforcement, physicians, counselors and social workers all working on the same page: Treating addiction as a disease and not a crime and helping addicts get help whether they are in jail or in our neighborhood.

Those attending the forum heard from a Montpelier woman who has been off drugs for more than three years but still takes her addiction day by day.

"Addiction has affected every single aspect of my life. It has changed every single thing about me," said Raina Lowell, a recovering heroin addict. "I’m not just talking about your run-of-the-mill, losing everything, hurting everyone I love, compromising my values, I mean I did all that too, but I’m talking about something so much bigger than that... Addiction changed the very core of my being."

Lowell said she shared her story "To make it a little easier to find the human being stuck within the shell of an addict."

Shumlin noted it’s not hard to figure out how this addiction "mess" happened in Vermont.

"The FDA sells opiates, heroin in pill form, approves it, we pass it out, it’s all 50 states, Vermont is no better or worse than the other 50," he told those attending the forum.

What sets Vermont apart and binds Vermonters together is our quality of life. It’s that quality of life that’s worth protecting and is worth fighting for.

A March New York Times article that gave a grim picture of addiction on Bennington was met with much ire from community members. Immediately following that article there was a push for change and several discussions about solutions in the community. But that momentum seems to have died down.

What can we do to keep vigilant in this battle, right here in Bennington?

~Michelle Karas


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