State of the state addresses—like the State of the Union—tend to cover a wide range of topics from the economy to health care to education. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin broke the mold when he devoted his entire 2014 State of the State address to the state’s drug addiction crisis. The rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime spreading across Vermont is “more complicated, controversial, and difficult to talk about” than any other crisis the state confronts, he said.
“We have lost the war on drugs,” he said. ” The notion that we can arrest our way out of this problem is yesterday’s theory.” Even though Vermont is the second smallest state in the union (pop. 626,600), more than $2 million of heroin and other opiates are being trafficked into the state every week. Shumlin expressed alarm over the increase in the deaths from heroin overdose that doubled in 2013 from the year before and the 770 percent increase in treatment for opiates.
Shumlin told emotional stories of young Vermonters becoming addicted to prescription opiates and heroin — one recovered, one died from an overdose. While stories of young and promising individuals dying from heroin overdoses may grab headlines, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers — such as codeine, methadone, and oxycodone — between 1999-2008 now exceed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined.
CDC reports that in 2008, 36,450 deaths were attributed to drug overdoses in the U.S. Opioid pain relievers were involved in 14,800 deaths (73.8%) of the 20,044 prescription overdose deaths. The drug overdose death rate of 11.9 per 100,000 (Vermont’s rate was 10.9 per 100,000) was roughly three times the rate in 1991. Prescription drugs accounted for most the increase. An April 12, 2012 statement from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that death from unintentional drug overdoses is greater than car accidents, the leading cause of injury in the U.S.