Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Vermont, other states steer addicts to treatment, but services remain scarce in many rural areas

One of the most rural states, Vermont, has come up with some answers to a growing problem that is disproportionately rural: heroin addiction.

So reports Elizabeth Hewitt of VTDigger.org for The Washington Monthly, in a package of storeis on mental-health issues. She writes, "Centers for Disease Control data shows that drug overdose death rates, up nationwide, are particularly high in the most rural parts of the country. Resources for mental illness and substance abuse are limited, and many people who struggle with those issues end up in the criminal justice system."

“It was the perfect storm,” Governor Peter Shumlin told her. “Rising addiction, rising prison population, lack of money to keep doing what we were doing, and a real sense of social injustice being served to people who were suffering from a disease that led to petty crime.”

Several policy changes "have helped lower incarceration rates by keeping addicts in treatment and out of prison" in Vermont, Hewitt writes. "While the shift in policy and attitude began with the previous administration, Shumlin made criminal justice reform a key part of his successful 2010 campaign for governor and has carried the initiative through his second and third terms, dedicating his entire 2014 State of the State address to opiate abuse." Still, "Scarcity of services in rural areas remains a significant challenge in efforts to curb opiate addiction and related crimes."

Other states with large rural populations "are implementing similar programs to try to divert nonviolent defendants away from the correctional system," Hewitt notes. "The programs attempt to relieve taxed criminal dockets and maximize exhausted treatment services, while curbing the recidivism associated with addiction and mental illness."

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