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Vermont Governor Focuses On One Issue During State Of State Address

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin focused on a single issue during his State of the State speech Wednesday afternoon.

Governor Shumlin addressed a joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday afternoon. While rank and file lawmakers will be grappling with a projected $70 million budget shortfall this year, health care, environment and other issues, the Governor chose to zero in on what he called a crisis that threatens safety across the state.  "I want to focus exclusively on a matter of great concern to our state’s future.  The crisis that I’m talking about is the rising tide of drug addiction and drug related crimes that are spreading across Vermont.  In every corner of our state heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens our safety. It requires all of us to take action, before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised.”

Governor Shumlin said the opiate crisis is “...bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many...”, but problems are very visible to law enforcement and addiction treatment professionals.  "In Vermont since 2000, we’ve seen more than seven hundred and seventy percent increase in treatment for all opiates. We've seen an over two hundred and fifty percent increase in people receiving heroin treatment here in Vermont since 2000,  with the greatest percentage increase, nearly 40%, in just the past year. Last year we had nearly double the number of deaths in Vermont from heroin overdoses over the prior year.”

Governor Shumlin asked the Legislature to approve an additional $200,000 to increase treatment.  He will include in his budget proposal $760,000 to help state’s attorneys and the courts and wants enhanced criminal penalties for drug trafficking. The governor is also planning a statewide community forum on addiction prevention.

Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna was impressed with how the Governor interconnected affected sectors. "Opiate addiction crosses all sorts of boundaries. It’s a criminal justice problem. It’s a health care problem. It’s an education problem and it’s an economic problem. I thought what was really brilliant in in some ways about the governor’s speech is that the problem of opiate addiction really touches Vermonters lives in many different ways, and he was really able to make the connections for people in a way I hadn’t heard him do before.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns says addiction needs to be discussed, but he is disappointed that other issues were not discussed in the State of the State.  "I’m sure I am among many who’d like to hear more about his plans for jobs and the economy, health care, more about our environment and what we’re going to do on clean energy production, and so forth. I think it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. Though clearly if you just look at the contents of the speech, I think it was very well received.”

Audio from the Governor’s State of the State is courtesy of Vermont Public Radio’s live stream from the Vermont Statehouse.