Kids Help Vermont Get Clean
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Kids Help Vermont Get Clean


dreamstime_m_38719111As a New England native, the last thing I ever thought I’d hear were terms like “gang affiliation” and “heroin ring” in relation to the state of Vermont. Unless of course it was on Jeopardy and the answer was “the state that has absolutely no gang affiliation or heroin rings.” So I’ve been increasingly shocked to keep learning about the growing drug problem in the previously peaceful and liberal state of Vermont. But I’m also quite proud of how proactive and unified Vermonters are on this issue and how seriously their state officials are taking it.

Kids Taking Charge

So serious, in fact, that VTDigger reported on a rare state senate hearing that was held in Rutland, Vermont this week to discuss their growing opiate problem. The greatest part of this report, to me, is the fact that the awareness on an official level was fueled by teens confessing to staff members at a local Boys and Girls Club that they were afraid—according to the article, “afraid to walk home at night, afraid to cross the park, afraid of being assaulted by someone on drugs.” I just love the concept of children having such a solid grasp on the correct way to handle a problem. It reminds me of the 80s campaign “Say no, then go and tell someone you trust.”

Apparently, Vermont kids as young as 13 are being propositioned to deal drugs or prostitute themselves. And as disturbing as this is in general, it’s especially hard to comprehend in Vermont, a largely rural state that conjures up images of humanitarian values, skiing and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. So I’d like to congratulate the governmental administration in Vermont for continuing to give their teenagers—the people on the front lines of the drug and crime epidemic—a voice in the troubleshooting this issue. Because adults can lobby for funds, offer treatment and listen but it’s really the young people who offer the most valuable guidance when it comes to communicating on a peer level—where drug abuse and the subsequent related crime begin.

“Just Say No” Isn’t Enough

The Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club in Rutland is quoted saying that they have spent hours listening to teens and figuring out what strategies work best. Because, they know, the slogans of past generations, like “Just Say No”, no longer work for teens (if they ever did). Kids want to know why they should say no so they want a better understanding of how drugs affect the body. Some of the teens who spoke up pointed out that drug education needs to come long before high school since many kids are experimenting with pot as early as the age of eight. This, of course, is the kind of stuff only other kids know.

The Opiate Epidemic Trickling Down

But even with the help of their peers, teen opiate abuse continues to spiral out of control. Barely 100 miles south of Rutland, just past the border into Gardner, Massachusetts (another rural area), legislation is addressing a similar rapidly growing issue around opiate addiction. A parent of a local teen told State Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan that he had been careful to keep an eye on his liquor cabinet but as it turned out, he should have been keeping an eye on his medicine cabinet instead. It makes sense though; with the growing obesity problem in this country, its no wonder kids are skipping highly caloric beer and going straight to Percocet. Prescription drugs, after all, are gluten-free.

But reaching for a bottle of pills over a bottle of Pilsner has a price. Opiates and other popular prescription narcotics like Xanax and Adderall are highly addictive and many find it difficult to get off them without some form of rehab. Which is why kids looking to pick up a pill popping habit should take heed: they may not be able to get the help they need when they need it. Wait lists for state-sponsored treatment centers are long and insurance hold ups make the process even more complicated. Kids that are able to find beds in these rehabs will quickly learn that it’s not going to feature the sprawling gardens and offer the Kundalini yoga that’s a part of luxury treatment. State mandated programs, like the one at Framingham state prison that a therapist and homeless addicts coordinator said one of her clients was sent to, didn’t offer appropriate medical or support services; the client was reportedly treated more harshly than convicted murderers and came out angry and bitter before eventually returning to drugs and prostitution to support her habit.

When it comes to drug addiction, everybody has their own path but they all seem to end up in one (or all) of three places: jails, institutions or death. Of course, there’s always the chance that a person can dabble and get out or find their way to a spiritual program before it’s too late. But is that really a gamble people should be willing to take?

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.