- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - A year after Vermont grabbed national headlines when Gov. Peter Shumlin in his State of the State speech made fighting heroin and opiate abuse a priority, the state is treating 47 percent more patients, waiting lists for treatment have declined and distribution of an anti-overdose drug has saved 133 lives.

“We are leading Vermont toward a much healthier state by taking on addiction and moving more folks to recovery, treating opiate and heroin addiction as the disease that it is instead of simply viewing it the old-fashioned way as a crime,” Shumlin said Wednesday. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

One reason waiting lists for treatment remain is that “we’ve drastically increased the number of folks who are going into treatment,” Shumlin said.

More than 2,517 people were in treatment at the end of November 2014, up from 1,702 about a year ago, the Health Department said. The Howard Center Chittenden Clinic, which has had the most demand, is treating 972 clients - a 40 percent increase from the 690 people a year ago.

One of those is Tyler Nolan, of Burlington, whose addiction grew out of the pain medication he was given at age 16 for a stomach problem that he says doctors were never able to diagnose. After three years, the hospital red-flagged him as someone seeking drugs, so he turned to the streets to buy pills and eventually was introduced to heroin, which he was told was cheaper and stronger. He snorted it for about six months and then started shooting it.

“After that, I mean, it was horrendous,” said Nolan, 23.

Nolan ended up doing 25 bags of heroin a day, a $300- to $400-a-day habit that lasted six or seven months.

The turning point came in November 2013 when he was arrested at his job as a call center representative at a Vermont teddy bear manufacturer and charged with selling heroin. That prompted him to do all he could to get into rehab.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me luckily,” Nolan said.

But it took him four months after he got out of Maple Leaf Farm in Underhill to get into treatment at the Chittenden Clinic. During those four months, he had to drive more than three hours daily to a clinic in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, for his dose of suboxone to treat his addiction.

He’s now getting the medication and treatment at the Chittenden Clinic, has completed his 90-day sentence of home confinement for felony heroin possession and has a job as a customer service representative.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” he said of the drug treatment and counseling. He celebrated a year of sobriety on Dec. 13, 2014.

Nolan said Shumlin’s 2014 state of the state address pinpointed the addiction problem and how to treat it.

Fighting the battle also comes through court diversion programs like the one in Chittenden County that put drug addicted offenders who are not dangerous into treatment, Shumlin said.

“So it’s compassionate, it’s economically and fiscally responsible, most importantly it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Another bright spot Shumlin noted on Wednesday was that the latest report from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed binge drinking, marijuana use and the misuse of prescription pain relievers dropped among young adult Vermonters between 2011/2012 and 2012/2013.

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