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Scary Stuff in the Neighborhood

January 24, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari 

Earlier this month Governor Peter Shumlin, delivered his state-of-the-state address to the people of Vermont. In a surprising and disturbing speech, the governor devoted his remarks to “the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime spreading across Vermont.”

During the past decade, Vermont has seen a more than 770 percent increase in treatment for all opiates. According to the governor, “What started as an Oxycontin and prescription drug addiction problem in Vermont has now grown into a full-blown heroin crisis.”

Teens and Drug Use in New England

Findings from the 2011 and 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health administered by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration document that New England has some of the highest rates of illicit drug use among 12 to 17 year olds.

In fact, of the top 10 states with the highest levels of teen drug use in the country, four are in New England, including Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In this survey, illicit drug use is defined as the percentage of young teens who used any of the following drugs in the past month: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription psychotherapeutics (such as narcotic pain killers) used non-medically. 

Vermont, the state with the highest drug use percentage among teens had a rate of more than 15 percent and Massachusetts with the sixth highest percentage in the country had a rate of more than 12 percent.

Heroin Use on the Rise

As in Vermont there has been a surge of heroin use in Massachusetts, especially in the southeastern part of the state and on the Cape. Why? Although the issue is complex, one clear reason is financial. During the past ten years there has been a significant increase in teens and young adults using prescription narcotic painkillers to get high. In response to the misuse, drug manufactures have made the drugs more difficult to use recreationally, and law enforcement and drug take-back programs have been somewhat successful in getting illicit opiates off the streets. This has significantly driven up the street value of popular narcotics such as Percocet and Oxycontin. Unfortunately, users are turning to heroin, which is much cheaper.

More heroin use means more people addicted, more drug overdoses and deaths, more disruptions in people’s lives, more strain on health-related service providers, and more serious crime in our community.

Vermont Governor’s Plea 

Governor Shumlin very eloquently stated the problem in Vermont, a message that echoes just south of his state’s border. “In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state. It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised.”

Recommended Resource

MedlinePlus: Heroin. An excellent source of current and accurate information about heroin. 

National Drug Threat Assessment: A fascinating and disturbing document about drug use in the U.S. 

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