Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin outlined his legislative priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday, a speech that focused almost entirely on opiate abuse.
Shumlin kicked off his speech at 2 p.m. talking about how well the state is doing, but saying there is still more work to do.
"Our challenge is not only to create good jobs; we share an obligation to deliver a better quality of life for everyone. All Vermonters deserve to live in a state where we know our schools are among the best in the country and our families are safe in their homes. Where we have a clean environment with a bright, renewable energy future. Where we have good jobs that pay fair wages. Where we all have affordable, high quality health care," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
The governor said he will talk much more about those topics next week in his budget address. He then turned to the focus of his speech: drug addiction and drug-related crime.
"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us. It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state. It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families. It requires all of us to take action before the quality of life that we cherish so much is compromised," Shumlin said.
The governor said drug addiction must be addressed as a public health crisis with treatment and support, rather than only dealing with it in court.
"I am not naïve and I know you aren't either. Terrible crimes - murders, armed robbery, sex trafficking and others - are committed by those in the drug trade and by those who are supporting their drug habits. These crimes have victims and devastating consequences," Shumlin said. "We must do for this disease what we do for cancer, diabetes, heart, and other chronic illness: first, aim for prevention, and then eradicate any disease that develops with aggressive treatment. Getting this right is not just a matter of compassion. It is also the right thing to do for our pocket books."
Shumlin said it makes better fiscal sense for Vermont to pay the cost of treating addiction, rather than the much higher cost of putting addicts in prison.
The governor pointed to the efforts of law enforcement to fight drugs and the crime that comes with it, and said their important work must continue.
He proposed four areas of action:
- Treating drug addiction as an immediate health crisis.
- Convincing drug users who wind up in the criminal justice system that getting help is a better path than addiction.
- Coupling enhanced treatment and intervention with even stronger, more coordinated law enforcement.
- Working on ways to prevent addiction in the first place.
"All of the proposals I have discussed today are designed to reframe the way we solve drug addiction and drug crime in Vermont, attacking it first as the health crisis that it is, while simultaneously retooling our criminal justice system and strengthening law enforcement. This will not happen overnight. But these actions represent basic, good government responses to an emergency," Shumlin said.
The governor also has a press conference scheduled immediately after his speech.
WCAX is carrying the governor's speech live on TV, on www.wcax.com and on our newest smartphone and tablet app, WCAX Stream.