Rolling Stone exposes VT drug crisis as governor touts smarter pills

By Bruce Parker | For Vermont Watchdog

As Gov. Peter Shumlin announced an emergency rule to reject Food and Drug Administration-approved painkillers that lack tamper-resistant qualities, Rolling Stone magazine published a bombshell article exposing the horrific extent of the state’s opiate problem — fueling doubts about the effectiveness of the governor’s policies.

DRUGS: Rolling Stone exposes severity of Vermont’s opioid addiction as Shumlin touts need for smarter pills.

During a public appearance at Barre City Hall, Shumlin on Thursday announced the state health department would seek to block the import of powerful painkillers like Zohydro he says allow for abuses such as crushing, smoking, snorting and injecting.

The governor’s support for pills developed with abuse-deterrent formulations is the latest salvo in his plan to address a statewide opioid abuse crisis.

While the governor touted the benefits of smarter pills, Rolling Stone writer David Amsden unleashed a horrific 7,000-word exposé depicting the shocking extent of Vermont’s opioid addition. (“The New Face of Heroin”)

Amsden’s piece, which follows 22-year-old Milton native Eve Rivait’s downward spiral into opiate addiction, depicts Vermont as a state flooded with illegal narcotics from border to border.

The story of Rivait’s tragic transformation from a horse-loving Milton teenager to a homeless opioid addict takes readers to the pit of Vermont’s drug dens, prostitution rings and rural narcotics outposts.

Shumlin’s overall drug policy — aptly described as treatment not jail for offenders — looms large in the article.

In the piece, the Green Mountain State’s “unorthodox approaches to complex issues” is interspersed with tales of hopeless strung-out Vermonters who can’t kick the habit despite treatment.

Amsden said Shumlin rejects the view that “if we just arrest users and put them away, then we’re going to make progress.” Amsden writes: “Shumlin’s idea that ‘we can’t arrest our way out of this’ has been adopted by law enforcement.”

Rolling Stone contrasts Shumlin with Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who has pledged to “hunt down dealers and get them off the street.”

The extent of Vermont’s drug crisis garnered national attention last year when the state was identified has having the highest rate of illicit drug use in the nation. Politico called Vermont “America’s heroin capital.”

A document posted from the governor’s Twitter account Thursday showed that Shumlin has joined forces with other New England governors to endorse abuse-deterrent formulations of opioids. ADF-designed drugs aim to deliver treatment to chronic pain sufferers while minimizing the potential for abuse.

Against the backdrop of Rolling Stone’s new exposé, Shumlin’s announcements appear as little more than symbolism — too indirect to make a dent in the crisis.

The stunning severity of Vermont’s drug problem is underscored in Amsden’s discussion with Matthew Birmingham, the commander of the Vermont Drug Task Force. Birmingham states that once-rare heroin busts of 100 bags have morphed into common seizures of up to 5,000 bags.

The task-force commander called the city of Rutland, with its limited police force and population of 16,000 residents, “the perfect storm” for the drug trade.

Birmingham told Rolling Stone that dealers also have learned to camp out in rural areas of Vermont where police are scarce.

Despite the governor’s State of the State agenda to tackle Vermont’s drug addiction, hard-hitting stories by Amsden and others may demonstrate that ADF-compliant painkillers and taxpayer-funded drug treatment don’t go far enough to address the severity of the crisis.

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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