Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Vermont battling opiate addiction by offering offenders treatment instead of prosecution

Vermont, one of the most rural states in the nation, is waging one of the most aggressive battles against opiates by offering "people who are picked up by police the choice of treatment instead of criminal prosecution," Elaine Povich reports for Stateline. Since making a January 2014 speech pledging to reduce opiate sales and use, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has "signed bills and executive orders that included $6.7 million for a 'hub and spoke' treatment program of central facilities and small treatment outposts, a medication-assisted addiction therapy program, tougher sentences for drug traffickers and new regulations for prescribing and monitoring prescription drugs."

The plan has been a huge success, with a state report saying that medically assisted drug treatment increased by 40 percent from January 2014 to January 2015, Povich writes. "Of those who completed treatment plans, 75 percent showed improved functioning. But the report also said more treatment opportunities are needed, citing the difficulty in hiring and retaining clinicians and other health care providers as a major obstacle."

Shumlin told Pobich, "When I became governor, I kept having moms grab my jacket, or dads, or sons or daughters, saying addiction is going on in our families. So I went into the prisons, talked to addicts, recovery folks, I talked to law enforcement, to the judiciary, everybody I could talk to. And what I learned was that we were doing almost everything wrong. We seized the opportunity to change the system to one that deals with this as a disease, like cancer or kidney disease or any other health challenge." (Stateline map)

"The window of opportunity to move folks from denial to recovery is when they are most in crisis—when the blue lights are flashing and the handcuffs are on," Shumlin said. "But we used to have a system that took months. And by the time you got to the judge, you are back abusing, back dealing and back denying. So, we changed the system. We said if you go to treatment, if you move to recovery, you will never see a judge or have a criminal record. And we do that while the blue lights are flashing. This happens immediately. We move non-violent offenders into recovery."

"I think the biggest surprise is the more we change attitudes about the disease, the more we have people coming forward confessing that they have it," Shumlin said. "The secrecy, shame and grief that accompany opiate addiction stand in the way of recovery. I underestimated that when we changed the debate . . . We have succeeded in removing some of the shame and that has resulted in more folks signing up for recovery treatment." (Read more)

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