Vermont (and many other rural states and areas) have a serious heroin problem, much of which was caused by our pill-happy federal government and a pharmaceutical industry who thought giving addictive opiates like Oxy for everything from hangnails on up was a swell idea, and of course highly profitable. But then people got addicted to these legal opiates. So the government cracked down, making the pills harder to get. Not surprisingly, addicts simply switched to easier to get and vastly cheaper heroin, making the drug cartels very happy indeed.
This cycle of addiction was aided and abetted by the federal government, working with the drug industry, says Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who has made treatment, not prison, his primary approach – and it’s working.
I think that the federal government and the FDA are partners with the pharmaceutical industry in creating the opiate crisis. Let’s just look at history, because that’s quite a charge. We all thought we learned about abuse of OxyContin, and there was huge pressure on industry to make it tamper-resistant. If the drug is tamper-resistant, it turns to gel when you crush it. When it isn’t, you can shoot it, you can snort it, and that leads to pure heroin.
Just a year and a half ago, the FDA advisory board recommended that the next drug, what I call OxyContin on steroids, Zohydro, not be approved. The FDA not only ignored them and approved it, they didn’t make it tamper-resistant so you can snort it and you can shoot it. So, I’m unconvinced that the FDA is partnering with us to try and solve this epidemic.
Addicts in Vermont, when arrested, are given the choice of treatment or prison, which is precisely the right time to do it.
Denial is the biggest challenge to recovery. Opiate addicts will lie. They will cheat. They will deceive. They will desert their children. They will do anything to get this drug. The window of opportunity to move folks from denial to recovery is when they are most in crisis — when the blue lights are flashing and the handcuffs are on. But we used to have a system that took months. And by the time you got to the judge, you are back abusing, back dealing and back denying. So, we changed the system. We said if you go to treatment, if you move to recovery, you will never see a judge or have a criminal record. And we do that while the blue lights are flashing. This happens immediately. We move non-violent offenders into recovery.
Most of those who get into recovery under Vermont’s plan show improvement. Excellent.