State Attorney in Vermont Won’t Prosecute Misdemeanor Opioid Treatment Drug Cases
by Betty Nelander
One Vermont county is using the muscle of the law to help curb the deadly opioid epidemic.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George announced that her office will no longer prosecute “any citations or arrests for Misdemeanor Possession of Buprenorphine and related compounds such as Suboxone,” noting that “these drugs are intended to be life-saving.”
In her June 13, 2018, memo to the Chittenden County chiefs of police, George said the drugs “block the craving for heroin or other street opioids, minimize the chance of relapse, and help individuals reduce or abandon their use of heroin or other opioids, which in return, reduces crime, the likelihood of fatal overdoses and recidivism.”
Such therapy has earned the support of U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and many medical professionals in the federal health bureaucracy. But law enforcement draws a line at black market addiction-fighting drugs.
Reason.com points out that users who “possess, share, buy, and sell drugs proven to fight heroin and opioid addiction are breaking the law if they don’t have a prescription.”
Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services recently tried to restrict shipments of books to prisoners because they are sometimes used to smuggle Suboxone strips into prisons, according to Reason.com.
But back in Vermont, George continues to lead the fight in another direction. She supports opening supervised injection facilities (“SIFs”). Here, opioid users would be able to use the drug and talk to healthcare professionals without fear of judgment, arrest, or an overdose.
These facilities have been shown in many cities of Europe, Canada, and Australia — where they are legal — to lower mortality and reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis B.
For now, at least, a Chittenden County SIF seems unlikely. U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan suggested last year her office would prosecute anyone trying to open a SIF and seize the property.
In the aftermath, the Vermont Legislature has been unwilling to pass a bill legalizing SIFs.