When Vermonters were asked about issues facing the state in the recent VPR poll, there were sometimes wide differences of opinion. But people overwhelming agreed that opiate addiction is a serious issue.
The poll results highlight not only the problem, but how many lives addiction has affected.
Eighty-nine percent of poll respondents said they believe opiate addiction is a major problem in Vermont.
Bob Maxham, a 66-year-old Clarendon resident, took part in the poll, conducted with the Castleton Polling Institute.
Maxham says when the pollster asked him to identify the most important problem facing the state, he mentioned the condition of the roads.
But speaking to VPR this week he acknowledged he’d been talking about local roads, not state highways.
When asked if he would choose a different problem the state is facing, Maxham replied, “Drugs is a good one."
We asked why he chose drugs.
“Because my son just died of an overdose about a week ago,” Maxham responded.
Jesse Lee Maxham, 34, died on June 30. Bob Maxham says although he tried getting treatment, his son couldn’t break free from a cycle of drug use.
“He just started out experimenting with drugs. Everybody does when they’re younger. He just got hooked on that heroin,” Maxham said.
According to the Vermont Department of Health, overdoses from prescription drugs have decreased in recent years. There’s been a sharp increase in heroin- and fentanyl-related deaths since 2013.
One indication of the extent of the opiate problem and perhaps how the efforts to de-stigmatize addiction have helped bring it out of the shadows is this number:
Fifty-three percent of poll respondents said they or someone they know has been personally affected by opiate addiction.
Justin Tanger of Mt. Holly, another poll participant, says he knows a number of people who have died of drug overdoses.
“I’d consider one sort of a close childhood friend and the others I more or less hung out and went to the parties together. Plenty of others are in jail for it,” he says.
While an overwhelming percentage of people polled identified opiate addiction as a serious problem, it did not emerge as the first choice when people were asked the open-ended question, “What do you think is the most important problem facing Vermont?"
To that question, 28 percent gave answers related to the economy, jobs and the cost of living.
Drugs was the second most frequently mentioned, at 17 percent.