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Gov. Peter Shumlin has focused his annual address to lawmakers on what he calls a growing epidemic of drug addiction as treatment programs around the state struggle to keep up with a surge in demand for services.

Shumlin announced four new initiatives Wednesday to combat Vermont’s growing problems with opiate abuse. Shumlin asked lawmakers for a $1 million budget adjustment to help provide increased programs in trouble areas. He also proposed two initiatives that would form a stronger link between substance abuse professionals and law enforcement. Finally, Shumlin announced a state-funded tour that will allow Bess O’Brien and those featured in her film Hungry Heart to visit schools across the state.

According to the state’s most recent official count – taken about 24 hours before Shumlin delivered his State of the State address – more than 600 Vermonters are stuck on waiting lists as they seek treatment for their opiate addictions.

In a treatment system that relies on addicts first to admit they have a problem, providers don’t always have the capacity to offer a solution. And experts in the field say ensuring ready access to the pharmaceutical intervention needed to wean dope-sick patients from their addiction is key to minimizing the prescription drug abuse problem now plaguing many Vermont communities.

“You need to invest in wellness. And that’s not to say that every problem can be solved by throwing money at it,” says Bob Bick, director of mental health and substance abuse services for the HowardCenter in Burlington. “But I think that investing in making treatment available on demand is going to pay dividends well down the road.”

Professionals in the field say there’s no one solution to filling the numerous structural gaps in the state’s treatment infrastructure. But they say money will be needed to fund the clinical resources, physical spaces and other assets for which the addition recovery industry is in dire need.

In a State of the State speech that focused exclusively on the opiate issue, Shumlin indicated this afternoon that he’s willing to do devote new financial resources to the issue.