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5 Years After Gov. Shumlin Called For Action On Opioids In Vermont, What's Changed?

Hydrocodone pills on a surface with the bottom of a container in the background.
Toby Talbot
/
Associated Press File
Hydrocodone pills, photographed at a Montpelier pharmacy in 2013. In 2014, then-Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his State of the State address to the issue of opioids in Vermont.

Five years ago this week, then-Gov. Peter Shumlin made a surprising move during his State of the State speech when he devoted nearly the entire address to the issue of opioid addiction. To mark the anniversary of that speech, this week we’re taking some time to look at what’s changed — and what hasn’t — when it comes to opioids in Vermont.

Usually the State of the State speech is a laundry list of accomplishments, goals and proposals by the governor. And on Jan. 8, 2014, Shumlin did start his speech that way, listing some positive economic statistics about Vermont.

But then he pivoted:

“You will hear from me on many of these topics next week when I present my budget. Today I will focus exclusively on another matter of great concern to our state’s future.”

And the governor said the state was facing a crisis:

“The crisis I am talking about is the rising tide of drug addiction and drug-related crime spreading across Vermont.”

Shumlin’s focus on the issue of addiction led to an influx of focus in Vermont on what's become known as the opioid crisis. There's been a push to get better access to treatment, change how law enforcement interacts with those who are addicted and change the way addiction is discussed — as a disease, rather than a crime or moral failing.

All of those things are in various states of progress. This week, we’ll be hearing from a variety of perspectives, including several people in recovery from addiction.

Listen to the interviews and stories that are part of this anniversary series:

From a statistical perspective, Vermont has made some progress recently, especially when it comes to waitlists for receiving medication assisted treatment for addiction — from May 2018 to August 2018, there was no waitlist for individuals seeking treatment. The number of opioids dispensed by pharmacies in the state has also dropped.

But in other areas, not much has changed. The VPR - Vermont PBS Poll in July 2018 found that 47 percent of respondents said that they or someone they knew had been personally affected by opiate addiction.

And according to data from the Vermont Department of Health, the number of accidental deaths attributed to opioids has actually gone up in the years since Shumlin's speech.

A table that shows the number of non-suicide deaths in Vermont involving opioids by year. In 2010 it was 39; in 2011 it was 58; in 2012 it was 51; in 2013 it was 70; in 2014 it was 63; in 2015 it was 74; in 2016 it was 96; in 2017 it was 101
Find the full methodology for this data here: https://bit.ly/2AAPt7I

VPR is marking the five-year anniversary of former Gov. Peter Shumlin's 2014 State of the State address, which focused on the issue of opioid addiction, by airing a series of interviews as we look back on what's changed in that timespan. You can listen to or read Shumlin's full 2014 speech here.

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