Gov. Peter Shumlin, in his State of the State speech to lawmakers today, said Vermont's economy is rebounding from the worst national recession since the depression -- with unemployment among the lowest in the nation, companies expanding, and home values rising. Vermont leads the nation in high school graduation rates, and is poised to expand pre-kindergarten and quality day-care programs to every community in Vermont.
"We are so lucky to live in the best state in the Union, where people work hard, trust and take care of each other, and strive to keep Vermont a place where our children and grandchildren will grow up and thrive. The state of our state is strong and growing stronger," the Governor said.
However, he noted, there is a growing threat to Vermont's progress and quality of life. "The crisis I am talking about today is the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime spreading across Vermont," Gov. Shumlin told lawmakers.
For decades, Vermont and the nation have primarily conducted the war on drugs through the criminal process. Now, working with law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors and defenders, and the treatment community, the Governor said it's time to treat addiction for what it is: a serious, life-threatening health issue.
On that front, he said, it's critical that Vermont not only continue a get-tough crackdown on professional drug dealers who deliberately ensnare Vermonters for their own financial gain, but also expand prevention and treatment options for our addicts who can recover and lead productive lives.
The Governor outlined Vermont statistics that highlight the need for a fresh approach:
A more than 771% increase in treatment for all opiates since 2000.
A nearly 260% increase in people receiving heroin treatment here in Vermont since 2000, with the greatest percentage increase, nearly 40%, in just the past year.
Twice as many federal indictments against heroin dealers in 2013 than in the prior two years, and over five times as many as had been obtained in 2010.
Nearly double the deaths from heroin and opioids in Vermont last year as we had in the entire preceding year.
Gov. Shumlin stood today following his speech in his ceremonial office with key players in the fight against addiction to call for comprehensive and immediate action to turn those numbers around. At the podium were members of the Judiciary, U.S. Attorney's Office, Legislature, treatment and medical communities, reformed addicts, leaders of social organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and the United Way, law enforcement, mayors and community leaders, and others committed to stemming the growing threat of addiction.
"Vermont needs all of us, together, to drive toward our goal of recovery by working creatively, relentlessly, and without division," said the Governor. "I am heartened by the tremendously dedicated leaders we have statewide to help."
Gov. Shumlin outlined a comprehensive proposal to tackle the threat of drugs, including:
$200,000 to expand staffing and space at backlogged treatment centers, primarily in Chittenden County, the Northeast Kingdom and central Vermont. The goal is to eliminate that waiting list and ensure treatment services are immediately available to every Vermonter in need. In addition, more than $8 million in ongoing funding for treatment and recovery will be in the FY 2015 budget.
$650,000 for substance abuse and mental health treatment services for Reach Up recipients, a figure that jumps to more than $1 million when matched with federal funding.
$760,000 to implement evidence-based assessments and pre-trial services statewide to move addicted Vermonters who have committed certain crimes to support their habits into treatment when appropriate. The funding will permit State's Attorneys to create intervention programs for those arrested, and will allow judges to review assessments and set conditions before trial that include treatment where appropriate. In both situations, resources to hold defendants accountable will be a key component.
Using a $10 million federal grant over five years awarded this past summer to help medical providers intervene earlier with patients who are beginning to experience problems due to their substance abuse, and using a separate federal grant to 21 of our supervisory unions to fund drug education for three years.
Using the Early Childhood Race to the Top $37 million federal grant to provide supportive services for families and to expand high-quality early childhood programs to give parents and children the skills needed to succeed and resist the pull of illegal substances.
Providing more than $2 million in new funding to tackle some of the challenges facing low-income Vermonters, including increased funding for rental subsidies and for supportive services, so that those in poverty have a better chance for economic security that will help fight the hopelessness that can help drive drug habits.
Real-time mapping of criminal activity to ensure state and local law enforcement is fully informed and targeting resources where needed.
Giving judges the option of tougher sentencing of individuals transporting drugs into our state, and supporting tougher sentences for those who use dangerous weapons to break into homes and steal property to support a habit.
$20,000 to ensure the cast of the Vermont-based film "The Hungry Heart," telling the real story of drug-addicted Vermonters, visits every high school in the coming year to speak directly with students about their personal experiences and the dangers of addiction.
Reorganizing the Governor's Criminal Justice Cabinet into a Criminal Justice and Substance Abuse Prevention Cabinet so that its membership reflects the broader challenges we face.
Some of these initiatives have been announced in recent weeks, but all play a role in stemming the dangerous and growing presence of opiates, heroin and other addictive drugs in our communities.
The Governor also announced that he would host a statewide community forum later this year to allow leaders across the spectrum of this issue, including public health professionals, law enforcement, educators, treatment specialists, social service providers, and local community groups, to gather and learn from one another's experiences while working to find better ways to prevent drug abuse in Vermont.
Finally, he acknowledged that the best prevention is to provide a great education, good jobs, a thriving economy, and a good quality of life to all Vermonters.
"To help solve this problem, we should keep working to ensure that every Vermonter, regardless of income, has the chance at success -- living, working, and raising their family right here in Vermont," Gov. Shumlin said.