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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What State Leads In Illicit Drug Use and Underage Drinking?

What state leads the nation (per capita) in illicit drug use
as well as in underage drinking per capita?

Make an educated guess. Did you say California, Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, New York, or Colorado? Good guesses for some obvious reasons. But whatever you said, I bet you were wrong.

The answer is Vermont. Yes, I said, "Vermont."

The small state of Vermont (the 45th largest US State and the second least populous) has so many plusses. Per capita, the state leads the nation with the most writers, libraries, colleges, Iraq War veterans, and Peace Corps volunteers. Most people think of Vermont as a natural paradise housing the beautiful Green Mountains and forests that produce delicious maple syrup -- a geographical, cultural and social gem.

In addition, in 2009, Vermont was also ranked by the United Health Foundation as the “healthiest” state in the country, with a low rate of obesity and childhood poverty. This high rank may be changing. The ranking certainly seems ironic considering that Vermont also ranks highest in the nation per capita for illicit drug use, as well as for underage drinking. It appears that Vermont has always had relaxed attitudes toward drugs -- now, they ravage the state.

15% of people in Vermont say they have used drugs within the past month (compared to 4.2% in Utah, where drug use is the lowest), according to 2010-2011 surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The state ranked high for almost every type of drug, from marijuana to cocaine.

And although the rate has slowed a bit since the 1990s, another national survey shows that 37 percent of teenagers in the Green Mountains drank beer, wine, and/or liquor during the past month.

(Matthew Mientka. "Vermont Leads The Nation In Illicit Drug Use: 15% Of Population Has 'Used' Within Past Month." medicaldaily.com. October 15, 2013)

What is to blame for the high rates of abuse?

* Is is high personal incomes that contribute to more disposable cash?

* Maybe the disparaging rates are the effects of particularly cloudy and cold weather?

* With the most miles of unpaved roadway in the country, and deep pockets resistant to cellular coverage by AT&T, much of Vermont’s drug problem may derive from its location.

* Or, should the blame go to the liberal politics of the state? Well, maybe all of these are factors, but most experts look far beyond these factors.

Highly Contributing Factors to Illicit Drug Use In Vermont

Barbara Cimaglio, the Vermont Department of Health's deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs, believes that marijuana accounts for a large portion of the state's drug use. Vermont ranked highest in the U.S. for marijuana use, with about 13% of people saying they've used it in the past month.

One contributing factor to the high use points to trafficking from out-of-state drug dealers, likely because the state has highways that feed into big cities. "I think Vermont is really in sort of a perfect storm because we're on that highway between Montreal, Boston, New York, and also going to Philadelphia," Cimaglio said.

Seven Days, an independent newspaper in Vermont, reported earlier this year that cops reported "staggering" amounts of heroin have been coming into the state from big-city dealers who can sell the drug at a higher price in Vermont. The drug is coming from urban areas such as New York City; Philadelphia; Lowell and Holyoke, Massachusetts; Albany; and even Chicago and Detroit.

A bag of heroin that would cost $5 in a big city can sell for as much as $30 in Rutland, Vermont, the city's police chief James Baker told the newspaper. Vermont is seeing an uptick in heroin use, Cimaglio confirmed. Prescription drug use has also risen dramatically in Vermont, as it has around the country, the Burlington Free Press reported in 2011.

Yet, Baker cautions that it’s simplistic to blame the heroin surge solely on outsiders. One of the biggest busts in his area implicated a Vermonter. On April 24, 2013, federal prosecutors charged Alan H. Willis II of Tinmouth with heroin trafficking, alleging he had been purchasing and selling 1200 bags a week since last June — or as much as 38,400 bags of heroin over the past 10 months.

(Andy Bromage. "Powder Trail: Tracing Vermont's Heroin Epidemic to Its Sources."
Seven Days. May 13, 2013) 


Josh, a 23-year-old with an easygoing stoner charisma familiar to anyone who grew up in the area, is a Vermonter born and bred in a small farm in Colchester. Josh had quite a report to give reporter Gina Tron of vice.com ...

"Josh has run heroin to Vermont from New Jersey six times in the last 18 months. His suppliers hand Josh 25 bricks of the stuff and tell them it’s his responsibility until he gets to Vermont and to 'hide it good.' Heroin is much cheaper in the big cities to the south than it is in the Green Mountain State, and Josh takes full advantage of this—he can make $600 off of $10 worth of the raw he buys. He doesn’t have much in the way of professional ethics. 'I’ve ripped people off by throwing hot cocoa in an empty bag,' he told Tron. 'Scoop a little dirt off the ground and throw that in there, dude.'

"Unloading the dope in Vermont is a cinch, since practically everybody Josh knows uses heroin. 'There’s nothing else to do,' he explained. 'It’s easier to find heroin than it is to find weed nowadays.' Josh got into the drug when he was 21; he first tried it when a friend offered him some to cheer him up during a bad day. Now as soon as he scores dope he goes to his car and snorts it. 'I don’t really care if anybody sees me because I know they probably do it too,' he said, before shrugging and flashing a bright smile."

(Gina Tron. "The Brown Mountain State." vice.com. December 10, 2013)


The drug abuse has gotten so bad that in 2014, Governo Peter Shumlin spent his entire 34-minute State of the State address talking about Vermont's "full-blown heroin crisis." In 2000, 399 people were treated for heroin abuse in Vermont. By 2012, that number shot up to 3,479. According to the Vermont Department of health, the trend seems to be hitting the 25-34 age group especially hard.

Clay Gilbert, the director of Evergreen Substance Abuse Services, an outpatient treatment center in Rutland, says to understand when and how major problems with prescription drugs and heroing came to Vermont, you have to go back to the mid 1990s. He explains ...

"'At that time,' he says, 'crack was starting to get popular. And if you think of it from a business model, having a lot of people addicted to crack cocaine is not a good business model because people don't last very long on crack cocaine. They keep dying off.' He point out, 'But, people can be on opiates for 10, 20, 30 years. So it's a much better drug to have people on if you're thinking of it from an organized crime model.'

Gilbert says drug traffickers switched from crack to heroin and began introducing it to all the major communities in Vermont. 'And a lot of their sales pitch - they specifically went after area young people was, this is really good stuff. You don't have to shoot it up to get high and nobody really gets addicted if they just snort it. So that got the ball rolling as far as opiates go.'"

(Nina Keck. "Surge In Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse In Vt. Towns."
Vermont Public Radio. October 15, 2012)

Stacey C. Sigmon, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, reports, "To fight the Vermont epidemic, Continued expansions in methadone and buprenorphine treatment capacity are crucial to respond appropriately to Vermont’s opioid abuse epidemic. In the meantime, however, wait-listed Vermonters are at high risk for overdose, premature death, injection drug use and infectious disease during these delays in treatment."

In a continuing clinical trial at the University of Vermont, researchers are developing a new approach whereby wait-listed, opioid-dependent Vermonters receive buprenorphine medication, dispensed through a computerized abuse-deterrent device, while they await entry to a more comprehensive treatment program.

Data thus far suggest that patients receiving interim buprenorphine treatment have marked reductions in illicit opioid use and drug injection behavior compared with those who remain on a wait list alone.

(Stacey C. Sigmon. "Vermont Heroin Epidemic." Letter to the Editor.
The New York Times. March 04, 2015)

The Good Fight

To me, Vermont is an interesting state to study in relation to things like proposed marijuana legalization, gateway drugs to heroin such as marijuana and alcohol, and some very strong community involvement in the face of a crisis.


God bless the efforts of Rutland, Vermont, in their "call to arms" to end their heroin epidemic. It is both wonderfully proactive and reactive. James W. Baker, a former director of the Vermont State Police, who brought in as police chief in of Rutland in 2012 to overhaul the department, and, block by block, citizens of Rutland have been fighting the scourge.

Governor Peter Shumlin praised the people of Rutland and their efforts that have raised a sense of solidarity in this town of 17,000. They are taking actions to move ahead with efforts to help reclaim their neighborhoods and their young people, not to mention their reputation.

ince acknowledging the problem, the police have come to view addiction as a disease, not just a law enforcement issue, and have joined with social service providers to take a more data-driven, coordinated approach to homes with multiple problems. City agencies and residents have joined forces to revitalize their neighborhoods and eliminate blight.

According to Seelye ...


"It became clear that the city could not arrest its way out of addiction and that the police alone could not handle the multiple issues that were arising from drug abuse. And so the police began meeting with social workers, advocates for victims of domestic violence and child abuse, building inspectors and others.

“You can’t separate child abuse, domestic violence and opiate abuse because in many situations, it all resides in the same house,” Chief Baker said.

"Chief Baker said. 'Now we’ll set up an intervention, not just wait for something to happen.'

"They began mapping service calls to detect patterns. This led to the identification of a 10-block target zone in the city’s Northwest sector as its most critical 'hot spot.' It receives 73 percent of all police calls, Ms. Rodrigue said, and 80 percent of burglaries.

"Many believe that part of the drug problem lies in the high conversion rate of single-family homes into multiunit rentals. The police say such units can be breeding grounds for drugs because of a well-established network, mostly of young women, who live in them and play host to out-of-town dealers. The dealers can make quick money by buying heroin in New York or Springfield, Mass., for as little as $6 a bag and selling it here for $30. About $2 million in heroin is trafficked every week in Vermont.

“'If you’re a guy from New York, you can come here with 500 bags of heroin, sell it and sleep with three different women before you go home the next day,' said Chief Baker. Many of the women, he said, receive rent subsidies and food stamps and use heroin themselves. 'The entire infrastructure is here for these guys to function, make quick money and leave,' he said.

"To help focus more attention on the drug problem, Rutland applied a year ago for a $1 million federal grant from the Department of Justice, which it did not get. But it used the application as a blueprint to organize a communitywide coalition of concerned citizens and government agencies. It calls itself Project Vision and it complements the work of the police and social services.

"The project’s overarching goals are to revitalize the 10-block target area, strengthen neighborhoods and reduce substance abuse.

“The point was to say, ‘This is our community and we’re taking it back,’ ” said Joseph Kraus, a former utility executive who is chairman of Project Vision.

"Last week, after months of preliminary work, its members laid out specific goals. The police want to cut residential burglaries in half by the end of the year. Project Vision intends to reduce the number of blighted homes in the target zone to 15 from 21 by rehabilitating or razing six of them.

"Two-thirds of the homes in the target area are multiunit apartments; Project Vision hopes to reduce that number to 50 percent within three years by buying back properties, perhaps having nonprofit groups restore them and resell them to owners who would live in them.

"The frenzy of activity has inspired people like Linda Justin to do outreach on their own. Moved by what she said were 'deteriorating' conditions, Ms. Justin, 65, has wound down her real estate business, cashed in her 401(k) and 'adopted' a square city block, where she has been meeting residents every Sunday and 'building relationships.' She offers to help clean up houses and was preparing recently to connect a young heroin addict she had met with the proper agencies for treatment.

"Mayor Christopher Louras has been going door to door with work crews as they install brighter streetlights.

“'A byproduct of that outreach is to talk to neighbors and let them know that we’re interested in their quality of life and giving them a greater sense of security,' said the mayor, whose own nephew was arrested in 2012 on drug-related charges.

"These efforts are in their earliest stages, but burglaries and thefts in Rutland were already down slightly in 2013 from 2012, according to police figures, although drug offenses — and overdoses — were up.

"Anecdotally, some business owners said they had seen little change, so far.

"Paul Ross, for one, who owns Ramunto’s Pizza Shop, said he still sees drug deals 'right in my parking lot.' And some residents of the target area resent that so many people from outside the zone are making decisions for their neighborhood.

Mr. Kraus, the Project Vision chairman, said the project was 'a work in progress,' but he was positive about Rutland’s future.

“'Nobody’s proud that we find ourselves in this circumstance,' he said. 'But we confront our problems and deal with them.' He vowed improvements."

(Katharine Q. Seelye. "A Call to Arms on a Vermont Heroin Epidemic." 
The New York Times. February 27, 2014)
 


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