This post previously appeared on Business Insider.
By Pamela Engel
Vermont has the highest rate of illicit drug use in the country with 15% of people saying they've used within the past month (compared to 4.2% in Utah, where drug use is the lowest), according to 2010-2011 surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The state ranked high for almost every type of drug, from marijuana to cocaine.
Experts attribute the problem to a combination of factors, including weather, politics, and proximity to big cities. "You have everything from the colder climate, which tends to be a reason some people give, to more liberal attitudes, to higher income levels, to people having more access, but I don't think anyone knows for sure," Barbara Cimaglio, the Vermont Department of Health's deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs, told Business Insider.
Cimaglio pointed out that marijuana accounts for a large portion of the state's drug use. Vermont ranked highest in the U.S. for marijuana use, with about 13% of people saying they've used it in the past month. "I think what drives this up tends to be the higher use of marijuana, and if you look at the states [with high illicit drug use], they tend to be the states that have decriminalized or have more favorable attitudes toward use of marijuana," she said.
Trafficking from out-of-state drug dealers has also worsened Vermont's drug problem, likely because the state has highways that feed into big cities. "I think Vermont is really in sort of a perfect storm because we're on that highway between Montreal, Boston, New York, and also going to Philadelphia," Cimaglio said. "You have to go through Vermont to get to some of the bigger cities like Boston, so it seems like some people are just trafficking along the way and Vermont is one of the stops."
Within the last year or so, she said, she's heard more stories of burglaries related to drug trafficking and more stories about people being arrested in Vermont who aren't from the state. Seven Days, an independent newspaper in Vermont, reported earlier this year that large amounts of heroin have been coming into the state from big-city dealers who can sell the drug at a higher price in Vermont. The drug is coming from New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit.
A bag of heroin that would cost $5 in a big city can sell for as much as $30 in Rutland, Vt., the city's police chief James Baker told the newspaper. Vermont is seeing an uptick in heroin use, Cimaglio confirmed. Prescription drug use has also risen dramatically in Vermont, as it has around the country, the Burlington Free Press reported in 2011.
Vermont officials have taken notice of the drug use trends and are trying to curb the problem. "We've enhanced our treatment services greatly, and also law enforcement," Cimaglio said. "We're addressing it on all fronts."