Greg interviews Jennifer Levitz, reporter with the Wall Street Journal, to discuss what she has learned investigating the opioid epidemic. Jennifer’s recent article, Vermont’s Radical Experiment to Break the Addiction Cycle, tells the story of Todd Popovitch, a former drug user who has been given a second chance under Vermont’s revolutionary new policies regarding drug possession.
Jennifer discusses the research which she undertook to write the article. Vermont has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. “Vermont is situated in a pipeline for drugs between New York City and Connecticut,” she says. “They were going right up from New York to Rutland, Vermont. That became known as the heart of it… in a lot of places, first, it was the opioid pills. Then there were crackdowns on getting those pills. Then the heroine started to flood in from the big cities. People could make a profit on it in Vermont. It was simple economics.”
Jennifer discusses the progression. “[Drug users] would go to a ‘doc in the box.’ They would say they had kidney stones, and they could work the system. But that became harder to do. The pills changed, and the new ones weren’t as easy to abuse. Heroine became cheap and plentiful. The problem was no longer some junkie down the street, as people used to think of it. Addiction moved to the suburbs.”
Jennifer talks about Vermont’s solution, which is different from traditional drug court. “What’s unique about it—in a lot of cases, if you’re sent to drug court, you actually get into court. You get charged, and if you complete the program, your charge goes away or the sentence is reduced. In Vermont, it’s different. You get arrested. The attorney looks at you and says, I’m not going to arraign this person. I’m going to give them a contract to help them put their life together in a certain period of time.”
Listen to the episode to learn the unique details of Vermont’s program—and how it is fighting the opioid epidemic, one life at a time.