- Associated Press - Friday, February 28, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A top White House drug policy official will visit Vermont next week to talk about innovative ways to beat opiate addiction as the state’s fight against heroin continues to draw national attention.

The director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske, will be in Vermont on Monday to meet with Gov. Peter Shumlin, according to the governor’s office. The pair will discuss partnering on new ways to tackle drug abuse and possible federal resources for the state, Shumlin said Friday.

Kerlikowske and Shumlin will also meet privately with state leaders, tour a methadone clinic in South Burlington and meet with emergency room staff on drug procedures, according to the governor’s office.

Tackling opiate addiction in Vermont has been a major priority for Shumlin, who used his entire State of the State address in January to speak on the topic and devoted $10 million to it in his budget proposal.

Vermont is among the top 10 states for the abuse of painkillers and illicit drug use other than marijuana, including heroin, for people ages 18 to 25, according to federal data.

Shumlin said he met with Kerlikowske recently in Washington, and they discussed ways to partner on addiction issues and build on Vermont’s efforts.

The Obama administration approaches drug addiction as a public health threat and a preventable disease, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Kerlikowske has applauded Shumlin’s efforts.

“We cannot simply arrest our way out of the drug problem,” he said last month. “Gov. Shumlin’s strategy of treating the drug problem as a public health issue, and not just a criminal justice issue, will help reduce drug use and its consequences in Vermont.”

U.S. senators also plan a hearing on the topic in Rutland on March 17.

“Heroin addiction ravages individual lives, families and communities, and it generates crime,” U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a statement. “It kindles localized destruction, but its roots and effects also extend beyond our borders.”

Leahy called Vermont proactive and said other communities and states can learn from its example.

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