Valdosta Daily Times

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January 16, 2014

Heroin and pill abuse stir a battle cry in Vermont

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Behind the facade of pristine ski slopes, craft beer, quaint village greens and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Vermont is grappling with painkiller and heroin abuse, a challenge leaders say is fueling crime and wrecking lives and families disproportionately in this tiny state.

Nearly every day, police across Vermont respond to burglaries or armed robberies investigators believe are prompted by the unslakable hunger for money to feed heroin or pill habits. In many cases, law enforcement officials say, what began as the abuse of prescription drugs has turned into heroin use because it’s less expensive and, more recently, easier to get.

Federal statistics rank Vermont among the top 10 states for the abuse of painkillers and illicit drug use other than marijuana — including heroin — for people ages 18 to 25.

Gov. Peter Shumlin took the unusual step of highlighting the challenge by devoting almost his entire State of the State address to it, and he called in his budget proposal Wednesday for $10 million in new spending on the problem.

In his address, he described the drug abuse as “a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface” and called on the Legislature to pass laws encouraging treatment and seek ideas on the best way to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place. He also called for stiffer penalties for traffickers and people who use weapons in drug crimes.

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