Great news: America has a heroin capital

Great news: America has a heroin capital

Last month, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire annual address to the state’s heroin crisis. Two million dollars worth of heroin is pumped into Vermont each week, he said, and 80 percent of the state’s inmates are in prison for drug crimes. The highways running into Vermont from cities like Boston, New York, Holyoke and Springfield have become heroin pipelines. As Shumlin noted, heroin-related deaths nearly doubled in the last year alone, and the number of people treated for heroin addiction has increased an eye-popping 770 percent since 2000.

The speech seemed to shock the world, sparking national and international headlines. And when Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death in New York earlier this week brought a new wave of attention to the national epidemic, Vermont’s heroin problem was again noted almost as a curiosity: Who knew pristine Vermont had such a nasty drug problem? …

By [2003], my hometown of Barre had turned from a once respectable working class area into a dilapidated strip of empty store fronts, overrun with pregnant teens and heroin. What used to be an under-the-surface problem was now visibly corroding the town.

After graduation, I moved back and spent a few years working at WCAX, the state’s biggest news radio station. It seemed that every night there was another story about some dopehead robbing a Vermont drugstore demanding OxyContin.

The number of heroin addicts seemed to explode after OxyContin was redesigned in 2010, making it more expensive and harder to crush. Since Oxycontin is similar to heroin, heroin became the drug of choice. It’s now easier to find than weed in many parts of Vermont.

I went to rehab myself that year, following a cocaine binge in my home state. The facility was in upstate New York, which has similar demographics—and a similar heroin problem—to Vermont’s. Most of the people there were being treated for heroin addiction, by court order. They all seemed to have the same story: They didn’t start off on heroin. They started on pills.


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