Scott: When people think about things like heroin abuse, they often think it is a big city problem. But Maggie Rulli shows us how drug abuse has taken over an unlikely place – the state of Vermont.
Maggie: Stephanie Montange grew up in St. Albans, Vermont the picture of an all- American girl. But behind these smiles, from the age of 17, she hid a drug addiction.
Stephanie Montange: I definitely did start smoking marijuana. I smoked crack and tried pills. Eventually, I went to Oxycontin to eventually heroin to IV drug use.
I would steal from my family. I would do whatever it took.
Maggie: Stephanie has been through rehab five times. About 4,000 Vermonters are in drug treatment for drugs such as Oxycontin and heroin. Since the year 2000, Vermont has seen nearly an 800% increase in opiate drug abuse.
Governor Peter Shumlin: It’s an illness that we need to treat, talk about and stop being afraid of acknowledging.
Maggie: Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State speech in January to Vermont’s drug problem. He says because 80% of inmates in Vermont jails are there on drug-related charges, serious crimes are up 46% over the past five years, and last year, heroin overdose deaths almost doubled.
Gov. Shumlin: It doesn’t affect just one class of people; it affects rich and poor. It knows no party lines; it knows no economic lines.
Maggie: Access and demand have fueled a $2-million-a-week drug trade through the state. Vermont sits in the middle of the northeast drug corridor, dealers traveling between Philadelphia and Montreal stopping off in small towns in Vermont.
If you look around, you can see that it really is a pretty rural area, which means the houses are all spread apart, there is often a lot of farmland, we see a lot of dairy cows all around us, and the nearest big cities are quite a distance away. That is why drug dealers have found these small towns to be good places to sell drugs.
Gov. Shumlin: If you can go and buy a bag of heroin for five, six bucks a bag and you can sell it here for twenty to thirty dollars a bag, you can understand the economic incentives for these dealers that come in here, prey on Vermonters and destroying their lives.
Maggie: Governor Shumlin is pushing for harsher penalties for dealers and help for addicts by putting them in treatment right away instead of jail.
Stephanie, who was arrested five times in the past, says she is now clean and has a full-time job.
Stephanie: In my addiction, I kept so many secrets. And I don’t have to do that anymore. I can be proud of who I am today.
Maggie: She is no longer a prisoner to her addiction. The governor hopes to free his state from the same peril.
Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.