Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) focused his State of the State Address on the Heroin crisis in his state and, by doing so, showed he is one of the few politicians understanding the epidemic use of heroin (and other opiates) occurring in the country. He may be ridiculed by some for doing so, but he is dead right addressing the rising drug mortality rate.
In Bucks County, there were 136 drug-related deaths in 2013 (2.6 each week) and half of those were people under the age of 34. If you add in the three surrounding counties (Montgomery, Delaware, Philadelphia), the total is over 14 deaths from drugs each week. If that many deaths were occurring because of tainted meat, a chemical spill, or gang violence, it would be the leading news story across the nation each night.
Governor Shumlin made drug deaths a leading news story because in Vermont last year, the number of deaths from drugs doubled from the previous year. Shumlin presented the statistics well and made sure all understood the escalating economic impact. That will hit hard-hearted politicians where it hurts most, the wallet, and possibly spark interest.
Drug use and drug deaths are occurring all around us and most just turn their heads. Governor Shumlin deserves credit for refusing to do so. He presented sensible ideas on how to address the problem and showed an inclination to listen to new ideas. He laid out a battle plan for the lost and forgotten war on drugs that just may make a difference. Legalizing marijuana certainly won’t.
Perhaps the nation will listen. If not, it’s a good bet that the drug mortality rate will continue to increase until a more influential politician experiences it firsthand. It always happens to someone else – until it happens to you. Then, unfortunately, it becomes all too real and too late to act.
David J. Hentosh