State News

Heroin addiction: Potential solutions explored at “Vermont’s Heroin Addicts—Handcuffs or Hospitals”

updated Thu, Feb 27, 2014 07:29 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON – Heroin addiction is making headlines in Vermont and across the nation, from an Oscar-winning actor’s recent death after an apparent overdose to the Boston Globe’s reports of the drug’s “deadly foothold in Vermont” and strings of apparent heroin being reported in nearly every state. It’s time for new approaches to the opiate problem, say members of the Vermont Law Criminal Law Society, who invited a team of experts to weigh in on the subject during a panel discussion on Feb. 24.
“This event is about new ideas from new sources,” said Vt. Law J.D. candidate George Selby ’14, one of the panel organizers. “We need to fundamentally change the way we treat addicts and the opiates they fall victim to.”

Panelists included addiction and pain specialists, a narcotics investigator, and an advocate for revolutionizing drug policy. They discussed whether drug courts, replacement therapy, and support groups are enough, and tackled a controversial question: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe heroin to treat heroin addiction?

One of the featured speakers, Arnold Trebach, J.D, Ph.D, professor emeritus of public affairs at American University and founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, the precursor to the Drug Policy Alliance, called for action in Vermont. “Start out by recognizing that the chaos in the local addiction scene is taking place within the current criminal prohibition system,” he said. “Then lay out plans to bring addicts out of the streets and into medical treatment, which must include heroin and other narcotics in oral and injectable form.”
Trebach was joined by Lt. Matthew Birmingham of the Vermont State Police, Narcotics Investigation Unit; Dr. Benjamin R. Nordstrom, director of addiction services and director of the Fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; and Dr. Gilbert J. Fanciullo, pain specialist and professor of anesthesiology at Dartmouth Medical School and director of pain medicine at DHMC.

Dr. Fanciullo discussed his protocol for the safe use of opioids. He said, “It may be that as doctors become more restrictive about to whom they will prescribe opioids.”

The panel, “Vermont’s Heroin Addicts-Handcuffs or Hospitals,” was held at 4 p.m. Monday in the Chase Community Center at Vermont Law School. The event was free and open to the public.

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