Staggering Facts About Drug Use in Vermont
Illicit drug use in Vermont is currently the highest in the country. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration states that 15% of Vermont residents say they’ve used some form of drugs within the past month. This is in direct comparison to the lowest state in the country, Utah, which is recorded at 4.2%. Additionally, Vermont is ranked highly for several other drugs, which range from marijuana to cocaine.
Experts suggest the problem is due to a combination of factors. Although some factors may seem minor, many play a key role in the staggering usage rate. These factors include proximity to major cities, weather, and politics. Experts add that being more accessible to drugs, liberal attitudes, and higher income levels are attributed to excessive drug use.
Marijuana accounts for a large section of Vermont’s drug use. This state is one the highest in the United States for marijuana use. Surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration suggest 13% of residents have used marijuana in the past month. Experts believe that marijuana use tends to be higher than other states with high illicit drug use because of favorable attitudes in Vermont on marijuana use and decriminalization.
It is important to add that out-of-state trafficking has added to Vermont’s severe drug problem. This is primarily due to the highways that lead into other major cities. Vermont is in the middle of many highways that lead to Philadelphia, Montreal, New York, and Boston. In most cases, in order to reach major cities such as New York, traffickers pass through Vermont.
Crime in Vermont has witnessed a sharp increase as a result of drug usage. Within the last few years, burglaries related to drug trafficking and the arrest of visitors has ballooned significantly. Reports suggest that large amounts of heroin have entered the state from out-of-town dealers that sell the drug at a higher price in Vermont. Simply put, one bag of heroin valued at $10 in a major city can sell for as much as $40 in Rutland, Vermont.
Over the last few years, prescription drug usage has grown considerably in Vermont. According to The Burlington Free Press, this is also a growing trend around the country. Vermont officials agree that prescription drug use is becoming a crisis. Many officials have begun finding ways to address the growing issue. These officials have started paying closer attention to the trends and implement innovative methods to curb the problem. Enhancing treatment services and improving law enforcement are two ways officials have started addressing the issue.
The Burlington Free Press reported there were more residents prosecuted in federal court for trafficking prescription opioids and oxycodone than any other drug. More importantly, in Vermont, prescription opioids have accounted for more than half of drug overdoses. It is important to add that Vermont is second only to Maine in per-capita admissions for the treatment of prescription opioids addiction. Some experts suggest that this brutal statistic is a result of physicians improperly prescribing opioids.
Over the past five years, research shows that one out of four cases seen by the Vermont Medical Practice Board involves claims of improper opioids prescription. In most cases, these prescriptions were over-prescribed to patients, family members, and the physician. Vermont also holds the most per-capita consumption of buprenorphine. This is a drug used to treat opioid addiction. There is also a commercial version of the drug known as Suboxone. Vermont’s correctional facilities are witnessing a rise in Suboxone abuse. This drug is currently the most seized illegal drugs within Vermont’s correctional facilities.
As a result, Vermont’s Health Department created emergency rules geared toward coordinating treatment, counseling, and medication for people addicted to opioids. Governor Peter Shumlin implemented a plan to improve recovery, prevention, and treatment programs. The Governor also plans to strengthen law enforcement tactics to pursue physicians that improperly prescribe opioids.
By The Numbers
From 2009 to 2010, Vermont ranked in the top ten states for drug-use in several categories. Those categories range from illicit drug use among residents age 12 or older to illicit drug use among residents age 18-25. Vermont also ranked in the top ten for marijuana use among residents age 12 or older and marijuana use among residents age 18-25. Cocaine use among residents age 12 or older and cocaine use among residents age 18-25 was ranked highly. Illicit drug dependence among residents age 18-25 was also ranked highly. During the past month, 13.73 percent of residents reported using illicit drugs compared to the national average of 8.82 percent.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health offers state-level data, as well as national data, on the use of illicit drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. This data also includes information on the mental health of United States citizens and data on the non-medical use of prescription drugs. The most up-to-date survey reports that in addition to the 13.73 percent of Vermont residents reporting illicit drugs use; an additional 4.57 percent of Vermont residents report using an illicit drug other than marijuana. This is compared to the national average of 3.6 percent.
There are also drug-induced deaths in Vermont every year. As result of drug use, 57 people died in Vermont in 2009. The number of people who died from car accidents was 79 and the number of people who died from firearms was 60 in the same year. The drug-induced death rate was 9.2 per 100,000 people which are slightly lower than the national average of 12.8 per 100,000 people.
Policies To Combat The Problem
The Vermont Department of Health authorized the Prescription Monitoring System in 2006 launched the system in 2009. The monitoring system gathers information weekly from pharmacies on Schedule II-Schedule IV controlled substances prescribed to outpatients. The information is collected then made available to healthcare providers.
Vermont has implemented state-level policies to combat the severe drug problem. One of the programs includes the Drug Take-Back Program. This is an inclusive plan to handle prescription drug abuse. The plan includes an initiative to properly dispose expired, unused, and unneeded medications. The Take-Back program provides residents with a convenient and safe way to dispose of controlled substances. The program helps prevent abuse of these substances. Currently, there are Federal rules underway that will improve the scope and capability of both community and state take-back programs. However, as of now, Vermont works closely with the DEA to educate residents about effective drug disposal and conduct additional take-back events.
Another state-level policy is a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program or PDMP. This program tracks controlled substances that are distributed by pharmacies and prescribed to residents. The PDMP detects drug diversion, assists with patient care, detects insurance fraud, and offers warning signs of drug epidemics. This program is funded by both state and Federal funds and was established by state legislation. The development of this state program shares information within the system that can help reduce prescription drug abuse.
ONDCP and Drugged Driving
As of 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that one in eight weekend and nighttime drivers test positive for illicit drug use. As of 2009, the Fatal Accident Reporting System data suggest that one in three motor vehicle fatalities have drug test results that were positive. The ONDCP recognizes the growing trend, and has started working to enhance awareness about the hazards of drugged driving. This initiative provides additional training to law enforcement in ways to identify drugged drivers, and persuade states to consider implementing Per Se laws. These laws will facilitate the prosecution of drivers caught operating a motor vehicle with drugs inside.
Currently, Vermont does not have a Per Se standard. However, Vermont state law says that “A person shall not operate, attempt to operate, or be in actual physical control of any vehicle on a highway…(3) when the person is under the influence of any other drug or under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drug to a degree which renders the person incapable of driving safely.” In some cases, blood testing is an option if there is probable cause. Although Vermont has laws against drugged driving, the state’s law enforcement agency lacks sufficient tools to prosecute and enforce drugged driving laws.
The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program improves and manages the drug control initiative among Federal, local, and state law enforcement agencies. In selected HIDTA regions, the program offers agencies additional resources such as technology and equipment to help combat drug trafficking. More importantly, the program curbs the damaging consequences drug use has on regions in the United States.
An Increase In Heroin Use
The governor of Vermont recently put heroin addiction on the top of his priority list. The governor devoted the majority of the State of the State address to the dramatic increase in heroin abuse. The governor described the issue as an “epidemic.” In Vermont, heroin abuse has increased 770 percent since 2000.
Over the last year, non-medical prescription opiate abuse has gradually decreased. The SAMHSA 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that the amount of “new” non-medical users was 1.9 million compared to 2002 when it was 2.2 million. It is important to add that these statistics are for non-medical prescription pain killers and not drugs received with a prescription.
Methamphetamine abuse has also decreased over the last year. The amount of meth users aged 12 or older was 133,000 in 2012. In 2002, the number of users was around 160,000.
Cocaine abuse is gradually declining as well. In Vermont, new users accounted for 640,000 in 2012 compared to 1 million in 2002. Crack abuse decreased from more than 200,000 users in 2002 to around 84,000 in 2012. This is a statistic that’s remained steady for the past three years.
The primary reason for the decline in illicit drug use is attributed to heroin use. Marijuana and Hallucinogen usage have remained steady. However, there has been a slight increase among new users over the last decade. This is not a surprising statistic since these drugs are the drug of choice younger users and party goers.
The most shocking statistic involves a severe drop in non-medical prescription opiate abuse that is a result of an increase in heroin abuse. Some experts suggest that the reason is related to basic economics. Prescription pain killers obtained illegally are harder to find and more expensive. However, the difficulty and price of heroin has decreased. For instance, an 80 mg OxyContin pill can range from $50 to $100 on the street. Heroin, on the other hand, costs around $9 a dosage.
More importantly, state laws prosecuting non-medical prescription pain killers have played a key role in the decline. Finding drugs like OxyContin on the streets can be difficult, but there is an abundant amount of heroin. Experts report that non-medical abusers of prescription pain killers have started using heroin as an easier, cheaper alternative. Some experts believe that prescription opiates can serve as a gateway drug to heroin. In some cases, this is not by choice but default.
Another fascinating stat among first-time users is the average age of initiation. For both non-medical prescription pain killers and heroin users, the average age is 22 to 23 years old. It can be concluded that there may be a cross-over effect from drugs like OxyContin to heroin. Conversely, the average age for first-time users of ecstasy and pot are 20 and 18.
The heroin epidemic in Vermont may be a forecast of issues to come in other areas of the country. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Vermont’s average household income, college graduation rate, and home ownership rate are higher than the national average. Moreover, Vermont’s percentage of residents living below the poverty level is considerably lower than the national average. These staggering reports show that the significant increase in heroin use is occurring where profitable people are.
Quick Facts about Illicit Drug Use in Vermont
The traffickers of cocaine in Vermont are generally Caucasian and obtain the drug from different areas that include New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Cocaine is transported into Vermont through the use of passenger vehicles and is typically distributed in bars.
Crack cocaine is not as popular in Vermont; however, there are a few areas where the drug is available. These areas include Barre, Burlington, and Rutland. Crack is normally distributed by African-American traffickers who get the drug in Massachusetts or New York.
The purity level of heroin in Vermont is considerably high. The level ranges from 55 to 60 percent.
Although there is methamphetamine use, there is not a noteworthy methamphetamine issue in Vermont.
These drugs include MDMA or Ecstasy and are popular with younger users or party goers. This drug is widely available in Vermont, mainly in the Burlington area. MDMA that is seized in Vermont is usually from Toronto.
Marijuana is the most widely used drug throughout several areas in Vermont. This is the drug of choice for younger users and many illicit users.
Marijuana is transported from many of the southwestern United States. The drug is usually trafficked using of tractor-trailers, automobiles, and campers.
In some cases, Canadian drug traffickers transport high-quality marijuana from Canada across the border into Vermont as well as Massachusetts and New York.
The proximity of Vermont to Canada leaves the state vulnerable to a large number of illegal drug threats. Moreover, Vermont’s two major highways are I-69 and I-91. These are the perfect ways to move drugs across borders from region to region.
Club Drug Addiction
Molly, another form of MDMA, is the current club drug of choice. There are also other club drugs that include LSD, GHB, and PCP. Ketamine is another club drug, but it is not as popular. The majority of Vermont’s molly supply is transported to New Hampshire and Boston from Montreal and Toronto. For the most part, distributors in Vermont are independent dealers who abuse the drug in social environments. The drugs receive the name because of the close association with nightclubs and bars.
Heroin and cocaine are the two most dominant illegal drugs in Vermont. However, crack addiction and distribution is gradually increasing into regions outside the state’s major cities. Prescription addiction threatens the health and lifestyle of many Vermont residents, both young and old. Currently, there is a clear and targeted approach implemented to combat drug abuse and addiction. State officials offer help to victims and attempt to strengthen prosecution on distributors. Stricter state laws are the best method to eradicate crime and illegal drugs. The drug epidemic breeds violence, crime, and poverty. It is important to remember that treatment and enforcement are the most effective tools to combat this problem.