Vermont quits hypocritical, failed War on Drugs; plans to treat heroin addiction epidemic as health issue

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(NaturalNews) Vermont is taking a novel approach to its treatment of epidemic heroin addition: State officials are beginning to treat the problem as a health issue rather than continuing to pursue the failed policies of uber-drug-enforcement with little emphasis devoted to rehabilitation -- the policy approach that best defines the 1980s-era "War on Drugs."

It is the second "first" for Vermont; the state recently passed the first-in-the-nation law requiring any foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled, just like any other food product -- a law that has since been challenged in the form of a suit filed by industry groups that are acting on behalf of monied interests, not the interests of Vermonters.

This "second first" could wind up being challenged by the Justice Department as well, if it runs afoul of federal law, but then again, the current Justice Department under the current Obama Administration hasn't been much interested in enforcing federal drug laws, at least when it comes to marijuana.

Nevertheless, Vermont's effort deserves a fair shake not only because it is bold -- and, these days, most "bold" policy initiatives are coming from states, not Washington, D.C. -- but also because it is a challenge to the current failed anti-drug orthodoxy. As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek:

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address in January to what he called Vermont's "full-blown heroin crisis." Since 2000, he said, the state had seen a 250 percent increase in addicts receiving treatment. The courts were swamped with heroin-related cases. In 2013 the number of people charged with heroin trafficking in federal court in Vermont increased 135 percent from the year before, according to federal records.

Abandoning the insanity that is the 'War on Drugs'

Shumlin, who is a Democrat, persuaded the state legislature to buy into a new set of drug policies that transcend the perpetual back-and-forth, catch-me-if-you-can game between cops and drug dealers. There will be a new crackdown on dealers, sure, but Shumlin also urged approval of dramatic and innovative new prevention programs for the state's schools and doctor's offices, in addition to boosts in treatment options for addicts.

"We must address it as a public health crisis, providing treatment and support rather than simply doling out punishment, claiming victory, and moving on to our next conviction," he said.

The reforms have begun to transform this small state of about 627,000 into a nationwide experiment for an approach to combating the heroin epidemic without resorting primarily to punitive enforcement tactics. Under new policies, or policies that will soon take effect, persons caught using heroin or in possession of it will be given an opportunity to avoid being prosecuted if they agree to treatment. In addition, addicts -- including some prisoners -- will be given wider access to synthetic heroin substitutes, in order to help them reduce dependency on the real thing and help them break the habit.

Also, a "good Samaritan law" will protect users from arrest if they summon an ambulance to help a person who has overdosed.

"This is an experiment," Shumlin said, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. "And we're not going to really know the results for a while."

Major drug traffickers, dealers and suppliers are not going to be shown much leniency, however.

"The culture hasn't shifted if you're a heroin dealer," South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple told the business website. "If you're trafficking hundreds of bags of heroin a day in our community, we're probably not going to [think] much about, you know, 'How can we help you?'"

Opium trade and production has skyrocketed

Vermont is not the first state to implement what have come to be known as harm reduction policies, or distribute the anti-narcotic drug naloxone to emergency responders. But clearly, the small state is going much further than any of its larger peers.

In an e-mail to Bloomberg Businessweek, Lindsay LaSalle, an attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance who has helped write similar legislation in a number of states, said, "Vermont has emerged as the leading state in the country in addressing opioid overdose through broadscale and comprehensive overdose prevention legislation."

As Vermont launches its dramatic departure from failed policies of the past three decades, it is noteworthy to point out a couple of things; first, the War on Drugs might have been a great political slogan, but as public policy it has been an abject failure, as evidenced by worsening addiction rates. Tossing even small-time users in jail rather than offering them a way out of their addition -- the latter course is much cheaper than incarceration and the costs of criminal action to obtain the drug -- was never a sane approach.

Secondly, since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, global opium production has soared, not declined. Opium is, of course, the primary substance used to make heroin, and Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium. In fact, according to the CIA World Factbook, opium production skyrocketed 57 percent from 2011 to 2013; it is a chief source of income for the Taliban.

Speaking of the CIA, the agency has been blamed for resurrecting Afghanistan's opium trade. See our report on that here:


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