How Rutland, VT, Is Fighting State’s “Full-Blown Heroin Crisis”


The extent of the opiate scourge in rural Vermont burst into the national consciousness last month when Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State message to a “full-blown heroin crisis.” Much of New England is now also reporting record overdoses and deaths, reports the New York Times. Rutland, Vt., is a blue-collar town that stepped up its fight against heroin more than a year ago much the way addicts do when they try to stop using: by finally admitting the problem. “There's probably not a person in Rutland County whose life has not been affected by opiate addiction in one way or another,” said Jeffrey McKee of at the Rutland Regional Medical Center.

Since acknowledging the problem, the police have viewed addiction as a disease, not just a law enforcement issue, and have joined with social service providers to take a more data-driven, coordinated approach to homes with multiple problems. City agencies and residents have joined forces to revitalize neighborhoods and eliminate blight. Shumlin has directed money to Rutland for a rapid intervention program to divert certain drug abusers into treatment instead of jail; if they complete treatment, they will not be prosecuted, giving them a better chance of finding a job. The city has opened its first methadone clinic. Residents had opposed one for years, but the need became too acute. Now, those needing this treatment do not have to travel an hour; the clinic, which opened in November, expects to serve 400 people by the end of the year.

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