Substance abuse issues aired at Statehouse forum


Nearly 200 participants added their expertise and ideas at a community forum on opiate addiction and trafficking in Montpelier at the Statehouse on Monday.

A collaborative approach underpinned the all-day forum, as counselors, recovering drug addicts, law enforcement officers, nonprofit representatives and elected officials from around Vermont came together to share resources and ideas on the state's drug problem.

The forum - which included speakers, panels and community-based discussions - was commissioned by Gov. Peter Shumlin and organized by the Vermont Department of Health.

Rutland Mayor Chris Louras spoke on the progress Rutland has made to address substance abuse in a comprehensive manner.

"The opiate epidemic is not a public health issue, it is not a law enforcement issue or a health care issue any more than it is a poverty issue or an issue of chaotic households. It is all of those. Unless you accept that, you are doomed to failure," said Louras.

The event provided a framework for common discussion, with speakers on the science of addictions, as well as community approach.

The forum was part of Shumlin's effort to address opiate abuse in Vermont, an undertaking that drew national attention when his 2014 State of the State address focused solely on issue.

Health Commissioner Harry Chen laid out the statistics: Opioid users become addicted after mere days of drug use, and seek treatment after an average of eight years of use, compared to nearly 25 for alcoholism. More than 50 Vermonters died of opioid poisoning in 2013. Last year was the first year that more people sought treatment for opioid use than for alcohol.

"I actually thought I'd never see that," Chen said. "But it's here."

The Shumlin administration has committed $12 million to the crisis this year.

On Tuesday, Shumlin will sign a bill that allows for a third-party assessment with drug convictions that will allow the defendant - if deemed eligible - to seek treatment and avoid judicial processes entirely.

Later this week, Shumlin meets with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to address cross-border drug issues, and on Thursday, travels to the White House for a national conference on drug policy.


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