Governor Peter Shumlin (on behalf of Secretary Hillary Clinton) at the NH Roundtable: Ending America's "Quiet Epidemic" Through a Five-Point Plan
Governor Peter Shumlin (D-VT) spoke on behalf of Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at the Addiction Policy Forum’s New Hampshire Roundtable on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Hooksett, NH on February 4, 2016. The roundtable was the second in a series of events in New Hampshire sponsored by the Addiction Policy Forum. The series is designed to meaningfully engage all of the current presidential candidates on the topic of addiction and the heroin epidemic sweeping the nation and ascertain their positions on the matter as well as any policy ideas they may have. Currently, it is estimated that 129 people die each day from drug overdose and New Hampshire is ground zero.
Governor Peter Shumlin began his remarks at the New Hampshire Roundtable on Addiction and the Heroin Epidemic by describing a phone call from Hillary Clinton a few months ago. According to Shumlin,“I figure it’s gonna be another politician talkin’ about how great they are.” But Clinton surprised him: “When I go to New Hampshire, when I go to Iowa, something strange has happened…” Clinton was told story after story about the “quiet epidemic” that had not even been on the table when she last ventured out as a candidate. She heard from families who were unable to help their loved ones and law enforcement officials who knew they couldn’t arrest their way out of the problem, so Clinton “resolved to do something about it.” She called the right person: Gov. Shumlin has been working to reframe the public debate around addiction for years. For the past two years he has dedicated his State of the State Message entirely to the topic of the heroin crisis in Vermont. Under his guidance, the state has implemented programs to address the complexity of addiction that have been imitated by states across the nation. Shumlin was struck by Clinton’s humility and patience, “She did what a lot of politicians aren’t very good at--she listened. For a second I thought she’d hung up.”
Clinton placed Shumlin’s advice amongst the advice of many others, and four weeks later “out came a policy” that the Governor believes, “if implemented, will give us the help from the federal government that we need to finally take this battle on and treat it as a disease and not a crime.” The plan would allocate 10 billion dollars to tackling America’s deadly epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction, and would address the following five points: Criminal Justice Reform, Treatment and Recovery, First Responders, Prescribers, Prevention.
In a statement about the indiscriminate reach of the epidemic, Clinton wrote: “Substance use disorders are a problem that touches Americans everywhere, from our biggest cities to our smallest towns, and from our richest enclaves to our poorest neighborhoods.”
I. Criminal Justice Reform
Governor Shumlin has visited treatment centers, jails, and detoxes all over Vermont to speak with those who have been impacted by the epidemic: “there are stories that make you want to sit down and cry,” he said. When he asked what kind of response was needed, “they told me that we were doing almost everything wrong.” Like most criminal justice systems across the nation, Vermont’s was slow and ineffective, especially when it came to dealing with drug-related crimes. Vermont has worked to try and turn the moment of arrest from a tragedy into an opportunity: “when your busted, when you’ve bottomed out, when the blue lights are flashing--that’s the most likely chance that we have to move someone from denial into treatment.”
Third party assessors are stationed in every county in the state and when someone is arrested, these experts determine whether the person needs treatment by asking: “is this someone that will hurt you or is this person more likely to hurt themselves?” Today, people who would have been arrested are told that if they participate in the “Hub/Spoke” treatment initiative with the wrap around services: “we’ll stick with you. You’ll never see a judge, you’ll never see a criminal record, you’ll never see a court.” And it’s working on all fronts, “they’ve got hope, they’ve got a job, they’ve got life and they’re getting back with their families.” Vermont has saved 50 million dollars since implementing the prison diversion program.
Clinton intends to “end the era of mass incarceration” by prioritizing treatment over incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. In order for this to happen, greater collaboration and coordination must be fostered between public health and criminal justice institutions “to ensure continuity of care for those who suffer from substance use disorders.”
II. Treatment & Recovery
Gov. Shumlin introduced the second point of Clinton’s plan by talking about when his father, who is now deceased, was first diagnosed with lung cancer: “Why is it that when my dad is diagnosed with a cancer that’s created from behavior that we all know isn’t very smart—smoking—that we say ‘we will do everything we can to keep you on this earth as long as we can and you will not stand in line,’ but if you’re addicted to opiates, we say ‘get in line, we might serve you sometime—usually sometime later.”
Clinton’s plan involves building out more treatment centers, matching participating states 20/80 in federal funds, abolishing lengthy wait-lists and ultimately treating addiction like any other disease, “stop the discrimination—line up.”
Clinton’s plan makes sure that “everyone who needs support has access to continuing treatment.” This emphasis on continuity is key due to the fact that many treatment methods are too short-lived to be effective.
III. First Responders
Clinton’s plan ensures that states have adequate funding to get and dispense life-saving tools such as naloxone to anyone who wants it and that first responders are trained in proper practices.
Clinton’s plan ensures that licensed prescribers meet training requirements and consult a prescription drug-monitoring program before writing a prescription for controlled medications. “Let’s make sure that we enhance the database so that we stop pill shopping across borders,” said Shumlin, “and doctor abuse, where folks can go in and line up this stuff, FDA approved Oxycodone and the rest, put it in their pockets, and keep getting more of it, with no questions asked.”
“Let’s change the attitude about the disease. Let’s get rid of the stigma.” Clinton’s plan defines Substance Use Disorders as chronic diseases and insists that they be treated as such. Clinton emphasizes the importance of empowering communities to design their own “evidence-based programs tailored to their communities.” Such programs would focus on engaging adolescents through education and early intervention programs.
Shumlin closed by addressing the influence that “Big Pharma” holds in Washington. When he was growing up in Vermont, heroin addiction was hardly an issue—nothing compared to what it is today: “We gotta ask at some point, ‘Why are we in this mess? What has changed in America?’” Shumlin says that we have gotten ourselves here and is confident that Clinton is prepared to ask the hard questions.“Three letters can express my frustration with where we are, and they are F-D-A,” he said over the sudden shift of a riveted audience. In 2012 the US sold enough oxycodone for every single American to have their own bottle.
“Give Hillary a shot,” said the governor, “she’ll get it done.”