Back in January, Governor Shumlin sought to deflect
attention from Vermont’s numerous pressing problems during his “State of the State” address. Instead of
confronting the persistent issues of: increasing education costs, unrestrained spending, escalating taxes, increased crime,
persistent unemployment and the fiasco revolving around his Vermont Health Connect – Shumlin
chose to focus on the single issue of soaring drug use in Vermont .
drug abuse is a significant problem in the state, however Shumlin feigned to have only recently discovered the magnitude of
the crisis while viewing a locally produced motion picture, The Hungry Heart– a documentary providing an intimate
view of the often unseen world of prescription drug addiction from the viewpoint of a Vermont Pediatrician. Hopefully, Shumlin
was not really surprised by the film’s revelations as drug abuse and its related criminal activity have been a serious
problems here in Vermont for over twenty years. Vermonters have been at risk of succumbing to the seductive effects of a cornucopia
of prescription and street drugs and/or being victimized by the users and their criminal suppliers for far too long. This
is an important issue that should already have had the attention of Governor Shumlin and the state’s chief law enforcement
officer, Attorney General William Sorrell and they should have already pressed the full resources of the
state toward resolving the emergency..
When Governor Shumlin chose to present the problem of Vermont’s exploding
drug abuse problem as the sole issue in his “State of the State” address he communicated a false impression that
the state was overwhelmed by drug users and drug pushers. In the days that followed national media focused their spotlights
on Vermont - interpreting Shumlin’s message as a notice that Vermont had become a haven for drug use. .
order the story morphed from one of supporting rehabilitation for prescription drug users to an announcement that Vermont
had become “The Heroin Capital of America”. Shumlin failed to intervene to effectively manage
the message, and direct the focus of the story to the state’s efforts to control the problem and provide aid to those
affected. Almost overnight Vermont’s franchise had been transformed from the “Green Mountain
State” to the “Brown Mountain State” .
A story with that title “Brown Mountain State”, appearing in Vice
Magazine, suddenly gained wide attention after Shumlin pronouncement. In that 3,000 word exposé, Vermont is
portrayed in a way few Vermonters would recognize – riddled with drug havens with law enforcement and government unable
to exercise any degree of control over the problem. The detailed story became reference material for the national media. Shumlin
continued to press his story before the national press, apparently unaware of the damage it was causing or possibly more interested
in promoting his own persona than controlling the devastating impact the story could have on Vermont’s vacation businesses,
gourmet food producers, artists and craftsmen (and craftswomen). .
Thanks to Governor Shumlin this undeserved reputation is beginning
to be attached to Vermont products and destinations. It is not surprising that Shumlin’s “chickens have come home
to roost” – in a recent Rolling Stone article “The New Face of Heroin”; Vermont’s difficulties
are highlighted at length and includes an illustration of a fictional “sugarmaker” getting his fix - on a tin
of maple syrup labeled ”State of Vermont Pure Hereon” This image graphically expressed what many across the nation
are surely thinking - Is this what Vermont has become? ; a bucolic mountain countryside obscuring uninhibited, unrestrained
drug dealing and use. Without a strong message to the contrary, the allusion is rapidly becoming the reality for those considering
vacationing here or buying goods produced here..
Peter Shumlin’s desire for national attention comes at the expense of the
reputation of Vermont and Vermonters. Far from being Vermont’s foremost pitchman, Shumlin has become Vermont’s
marketing undertaker, burying Vermont’s hard-earned reputation as New England’s Paradise under an indecorous and
unfitting shroud of a drug ridden nightmare. If demand for Vermont products and reservations at tourist destinations begin
to decline – we won’t have to look beyond the penthouse of the Pavilion Building in Montpelier for the source
of the problem..
H. Brooke Paige