For the first time ever, New England's governors will hold a summit to develop common strategies to deal with the region’s growing opiate addiction problem.
In the last six months, Vermont’s growing opiate problem has received a lot of national attention but it turns out that most of the other New England states are also experiencing similar situations.
In New Hampshire, the number of heroin related overdoses has doubled in the past year, and in Connecticut, the number of overdoses has increased by almost 50 percent. Officials link a rise in burglaries and robberies to the increased drug activity.
Governor Peter Shumlin says the "regional drug summit" in Massachusetts next week will be a chance for the governors to compare notes on what approaches are working and which ones are not.
“We’ve got a crisis on our hands. We’ve got a challenge collectively. It threatens our quality of life,” said Shumlin. “How do we work together on cross border issues on treatment issues on approaches that are more creative that just treating this as a crime to ensure that we’re treating it as the disease that it is and we’re actually making progress.”
Shumlin says one goal is to develop cross border treatment options.
“We can have folks who have waiting lists on one side of a state border for folks that are ready for treatment who cannot get compensation if they cross the border for treatment places where they actually have room,” said the governor.
Shumlin says the other New England governors are also interested in learning more about Vermont’s new law that offers treatment instead of jail to some offenders.
“The notion that we’re going to have third party assessors there as soon as someone’s busted or when they bottom out without lines to treatment and be able to say to people you have a choice assuming that you’re not someone that we’re scared of you’ve got a choice,” said Shumlin. “You can stay out of the criminal justice system altogether if you go into treatment and you can succeed and that’s a huge sea change in the way we deal with opiate addiction.”
While Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has criticized some health insurance companies in his state for blocking access to treatment, Shumlin says he’s pleased with the way Vermont’s insurance carriers have made treatment options available.