As heroin abuse and addiction continues to be a rampant problem that threatens the health, well being, and livelihood of countless individuals, governments, health institutions, parents, and educators alike, along with local law enforcement agencies, are struggling to find the solutions that will lead to real change in the number of people who suffer from hospitalization or death as a result of heroin addiction. In recent years, addiction to this lethal and highly addictive drug as skyrocketed at such a pace that it is considered an epidemic.
It is a problem that is so far-reaching and complicated that various elements of communities are banding together and strategizing as to the best way to curtail this disturbing trend. In the state of Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin has recently announced a paradigm change that may in fact represent a shift in philosophy that will be carried out by many states in the U.S.: he has declared heroin addiction a health crisis.
Public Health Vs. The War On Drugs
With limited financial and human resources, many state governments have found themselves in a position where they are forced to decide how many of their resources should be used to stop the criminals who possess and sell illegal drugs and how many of their resources should go toward things like prevention and health care for addicts who want and need help. In his January 2014 state address, Governor Shumlin pointed out that there has been an alarming 250% increase in addicts receiving treatment for their dependency, a situation that Shumlin referred to as a "full-blown heroin crisis."
As part of this crisis, arrests related to heroin possession and trafficking have increased 135% in the last year alone. This has placed a serious burden on the state of Vermont, who has seen its criminal courts flooded with heroin related cases.
Shumlin has proposed that in light of the health crisis that is the heroin epidemic, additional resources must be allotted to prevention and to accessible care for addicts. Doing this, Shumlin and his colleagues hope, may help to curb what often seems like a futile and never-ending cycle of catching drug dealers, only to have new dealers turn up.
Public Perception of Addiction
The decision to look at Vermont's heroin problem as a health crisis may have the effect of allowing more people in the general public to recognize addiction for the disease that it is, rather than viewing it as a demonstration of moral weakness. Although doctors and counselors have long known that addiction is a disease, addicts, recovering addicts, and those in the recovery community continue to be aware of the fact that there is still a major stigma around addiction.
This is problematic for a few reasons. When addiction is highly stigmatized, addicts who need help are much more likely to keep the severity of their addiction a secret, and to avoid getting help or asking for support.
The loved ones of addicts may also be much less supportive when an addict finally does seek treatment, and they may thus be poorly equipped to help a recovering addict to do the work they must do to find sobriety and stay sober over the course of a lifetime.
Many Look to New Laws With Hope
A number of laws are currently being proposed in Vermont that seek to eradicate heroin abuse by looking at it as a health problem and not a crime. Many residents and lawmakers in the state hope that the laws will be passed and subsequently prove to be effective, and that meaningful progress is made in the fight against this deadly disease.