Governor Peter Shumlin made opiate addiction the focus of his State of the State address. Now community partners in Hardwick are taking a closer look at how these drugs are affecting students inside and outside the classroom. The goal of Wednesday's meeting was to figure out a way to better protect kids whether they struggle with addiction themselves or have parents hooked on heroin.
"If you're struggling, if your family is struggling with an addiction, struggling with poverty, it makes it difficult for kids to be available to really engage in their learning," said Cindy Donlon, the principal at Hazen Union High School.
Donlon says she's seeing the opiate problem get worse. A group of educators, medical professionals, police and parents gathered in Hardwick Wednesday evening to talk about the toll opiate addiction takes on the community.
"We see an increase in crime rate, burglaries, many different crimes. We've seen an increase in that, which affects the community financially and causes a huge financial drain on the police department, as well," said Hardwick Police Chief Aaron Cochran.
The Hardwick Health Center hosted the discussion and provided local resources for opiate prevention, treatment, and recovery.
"Heroin addiction is not something that just pops up like the measles. It's caused by underlying problems and a lot of those stem from poverty," said Patrick Flood of Northern County Health Care.
Much of Wednesday's conversation centered on students and how opiate addiction at home can be a major distraction in the classroom.
"We have students who are concerned enough during the day that they are calling their parents to check on their well-being. So we have kids that are certainly concerned about their parents. But I think those are the kids that are really at risk of addiction, as well. And we have kids that are struggling with substance abuse," Donlon said.
The Health Department's most recent numbers show that only 25 people under the age of 18 were treated for opiate abuse in Vermont in 2012. But Hazen Union officials say they see a different trend.
"You know we have noticed an increase. And whether or not it's an actual increase in the number of kids that are exposed to it, or whether or not the effects are more prevalent in the kids we have noticed definitely an increase," said Jackie Tolman the Dean of Students.
Mom Phyllis Mitchell has dealt with addiction. She says she was married to an alcoholic for more than a decade and says the road to recovery for any addiction is similar. What struck her at Wednesday's meeting was the emphasis on hope and support.
"I think getting into recovery, knowing who to go to for your own support. If I'm not healthy I can't help someone else," Mitchell said.
Although there were a lot of different agencies at Wednesday's discussion they say the next step is to bring more parents and students to the table.
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