Statistics from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration rank Vermont in the top categories for the abuse of non-medical use of pain relievers and illicit drug use other than marijuana -- which includes heroin -- for people ages 18 to 25.
Vermont ranks second per capita, behind Maine, in the number of people seeking treatment. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen said the treatment statistic, which he considered good news because it shows the problem is being addressed, and the governor's speech represent a "paradigm shift" away from a law-enforcement centered approach to dealing with drug abuse.
Shumlin called on the Legislature to appropriate money to reduce waiting lists for addicts to get treatment and expand treatment and recovery programs. He called for the creation of a system that would allow some addicts to be sent for treatment immediately after their first contacts with law enforcement.
While he emphasized treatment and called for ways to keep people from becoming addicted in the first place, Shumlin called for tougher sentences for drug traffickers and addicts who commit violent crimes while seeking money for drugs.
During his speech on Wednesday, Shumlin introduced Dustin Machia, who grew up on a dairy farm in northwestern Vermont. When he was in the 10th grade, friends offered him a prescription painkiller. He's been clean for five years, but, speaking during a news conference with the governor after the speech, Machia described himself as "an addict, always will be."
Five years ago Machia, now 25 and from Swanton, said he and his mother went to a local doctor, a big step on the road to recovery. He used the spotlight of standing near the governor to make it possible for addicts to get treatment as soon as they want it.
"If I'm an addict today and something major happens and I decided it's time to go, find a bed at a rehab somewhere and I'm ready to go right now I need to go right now because if I don't go right now and I wait until tomorrow, tomorrow could be too late, I could be dead," he said.