The Senate Judiciary Committee traveled to Barre, Vt. on March 22 to hear testimony regarding drug-related crime in rural America. The hearing was sparked in part by the alarming rise in overdose deaths in rural communities that are largely attributed to the rise in misuse of prescription painkillers like OxyContin. In fact, the rate of rural overdose deaths is rapidly outpacing the rate increases in urban and suburban communities. Vermont, Maine and West Virginia all experienced significant increases in overdose death rates between 1999 and 2004: 164 percent, 210 percent and 550 percent respectively, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Col. Thomas L’Esperance, director of the Vermont State Police, testified that OxyContin has replaced heroin as the opiate of choice in his state, and that the medication has now become as widespread and available as heroin or crack cocaine. With the increase in demand for narcotics like Oxy, the state is now seeing a spike in the number of heroin cases – a 115% increase in the past 16 months. This can be attributed in part to the increase in Oxy addiction in the state and the fact that comparatively, the street value of a bag of heroin is generally less than half the value of one 80mg Oxy pill, he said.
Read a wrap-up of some of the other testimony here.