Gov. Shumlin's State of the State focuses on opiate abuse - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Gov. Shumlin's State of the State focuses on opiate abuse

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Gov. Peter Shumlin used his State of the State address to tackle one topic: opiate addiction. His speech focused on what he calls "a public health crisis."

It's not a new topic for the Legislature. The body has passed several measures over the last few years, but issues persist. The Governor hopes more money and continued focus can change that.

Wednesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin delivered his annual assessment of Vermont's present and future.

"The state of our state is strong and growing stronger," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

For the second straight year, the governor spent nearly his entire speech on one issue. Last year, he spoke of education. This year, he says opiate abuse poses a bigger challenge than Tropical Storm Irene did.

"It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised," Shumlin said.

The governor unveiled several statistics, like the doubling of opiate-related deaths over the last year, indicating abuse remains on the rise in Vermont.

He proposes a four-point plan to stem the growth:

  • Fund more treatment to shorten wait-times for those desiring help.
  • Speed the judicial process, allowing drug offenders to quickly enter programs while still committed to changing their behavior.
  • Tougher punishments for out-of-state drug-runners and for burglars who carry a weapon.
  • Crowdsource ideas to better prevent addiction in the first place.

"You do not have to be a math major to realize that we can't afford our current path," Shumlin said.

Shumlin proposes allotting just under $2 million in new dollars to tackle opiates, noting prevention is far cheaper than either treatment or incarceration for both the addict and the state.

Earlier Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee received an update from medical experts regarding the implementation of last year's reforms. Witnesses told the members the legislation began saving lives the first week it took effect.

After the governor's speech, mixed feelings filled the Statehouse. Some were glad he focused so much on the drug epidemic, others wanted more strategy.

"Governor Shumlin showed an enormous amount of courage in advocating to treat addiction not only as a public safety issue, but it really is a public health issue," said T.J. Donovan, the Chittenden County state's attorney.

"Cursory sort of comments about economy and education were just not, I don't think that was, I think it was a missed opportunity for the governor to talk about issues that Vermonters are really trying to get answers to," said Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe.

"I thought he did a tremendous job of outlining the challenge ahead of us and I think he gave us some firm direction from the bill that a number of us introduced having to do with risk assessments and other things," said Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington County.

"Our concern here today is what you did not hear in the governor's speech was any discussion about how we are going to finance this plan. It is wonderful to talk about the abstract concept of a problem that needs to be corrected, but when you get down to the practical reality of learning how to address it, we haven't got there yet," said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, also released a statement saying he agrees with the governor that creating jobs is the best prevention, but he is concerned there was no mention of a strategy. He also shared his concerns that it is still unclear what direction Vermont will be heading when considering other issues like health care and property tax increases.

Click here to read the full text of Gov. Peter Shumlin's State of the State address.

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