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Does Vermont Have a Heroin Problem?

Tune into VPR today, Wed 5/22/13 Noon& 7 pm The number patients seeking treatment for heroin and prescription opiates in Vermont has risen significantly over the last few years. And the spin-off effects, like burglary, have also been in evidence in the state.

United States Attorney Tristram Coffin explains the depth of the heroin and opiate abuse problem. We also hear from Skip Gates, whose son overdosed on heroin, and about the documentary (“The Opiate Effect”) that his death inspired.

Email your questions to vermontedition@vpr.net.

What do you think?


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Why Heroin?

I've always thought of heroin as a drug of hopelessness, the kind of drug that people do when they have nothing else worthwhile to do and no options for the future. It seems to be worse when you're surrounded by other hopeless people who are all doing the same thing. Which to me says it's as much an economic problem as it is one of public health.

I also worry about all the huge negatives that go with hard drugs such as violence, burglaries, muggings, and gangs. I grew up in the city of Baltimore where crack and heroin killed people directly and indirectly for decades and are still doing so today. Let's hope Vermont can find a way to get to the source of the problem and avoid that scenario here.


Criminalization is more harmful than all of the drugs combined

Heroin and Crack have had such a longtime bad rap, both real and imagined, that I feel the need to tread carefully on the topic.

A couple of days ago I saw a blurb for an article on the myths around “crack babies” which I didn’t read because I am already conversant with the media, cultural and political mythologies around crack and heroin, and other illegal drugs. This is easy for me to mention because most of the true harmful effects of crack and heroin kinda dominate the word-counts in many articles, so there’s no point in me rehashing that.

If you use Lise’s comment above as an example, it’s a good choice because it’s largely accurate. The problem is that it is accurate for only a small percentage of heroin and crack users.

Most heroin and crack users are, in fact, often gainfully employed, not violent, don't commit crime and are reasonably well –integrated in their immediate circle. Moreover, often times other people are unaware of their usage.

I should insert here that the number-one harm of illegal drug usage in this country is the fact that they are illegal. A militaristic war on your own adult people who have made a conscious choice to use drugs regularly, intermittently or a few times is a broken system and like any device that is faulty, it is usually dangerous. Criminalization is more harmful and dangerous than all of the drugs combined.

All human drug usage, legal and illegal, including heroin and crack, fall roughly within these percentiles:
> (3-6%) only a small number of people are “addicts,” I mean real addicts with a must-have daily need.
> (7-12%) another six or seven percent are abusers, not addicts, that means they use the drug on a scale of variable usage patterns, but do not have a daily must-have pattern. These people also have “problems and no problems” with varying degrees.
> (12-20%) May feel they use one drug or the other too much or are told that they do but, are “not” clinically deemed to be substance abusers.
> (80% +) nearly all other drug usage falls into this last category, with 2 major exceptions – (1) cigarettes with a 99% addiction rate (2) marijuana which is not physically addictive although some claim it is psychologically addictive. In any case, a majority of people consider marijuana to be the least harmful drug known to man.

[Note: My comment here is a summary of my involvement with the nonprofit sector of the drug-reform-movement since 1987 with many professionals and a boatload of personal/anecdotal data from many people. It is not meant to be scientific.
Since personal research is a healthy pastime, I always recommend that readers do their own look-ups, if they are inclined.]


The cost of criminalization control

This graph charts two lines;
1…(Blue)The addiction rates that have held steady over 40 years
2…(Green) The out of control spending to interdict, enforce, and incarcerate illegal drug use under the criminal justice system in the United States.

< In forty years the US addiction rate has never risen over 2% in any two-year period, yet the cost of criminalization control is over $1.5 trillion>



300 packets in April here in town

According to Police Chief Gene Wrinn's monthly report to the Town Manager, 300 packets of heroin were taken into custody by Brattleboro Police during investigations in April.

The report didn't say if this was one person with all of it, or many people with some. 60 people were arrested, total, in April.

(Also of note was their peaceful resolution to a NY male who drove to the area desiring "suicide by Cop.")


Chris, Does that report mean

Does that report mean that 60 people were arrested fro heroin possession or 60 people were arrested in all-for a variety of crimes? Because 60 people arrested for heroin in one month would be a frightening statistic,indeed.
I know almost nothing about the sale /possession of heroin but 300 packets seems like a large, troublesome number to me. I wonder how much of this drug trafficking is due to Brattleboro's close proximity to the Springfield, Mass area- which is known for a pretty serious drug problem. It's worrisome, that's for sure.


All included

Total arrests, for all crimes. Not just heroin. That could have been one of them, or many. Report didn't say.


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