Keelan: “We still don’t care if they die”

Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya, via

by Don Keelan

Ten years ago, when Governor Peter Shumlin delivered his State of the State address, he created a national news event; his address was almost 100% devoted to the heroin problem ravaging Vermont. 

Little did the Governor know that more powerful drugs–Fentanyl, Methamphetamine, and Xylazine (words not even in the drug lexicon at the time,)–would dominate the Vermont illicit drug market in 2023. 

In the next nine years, 1,200 Vermonters lost their lives from a drug overdose, according to Seven Days reporter, Colin Flanders, in his June 2023 detailed report on illegal drug use in Vermont. 

After plotting Flanders’ statistics on overdose deaths for the last nine years, my informal trend line points to a doubling of deaths; 2,450 by 2027. Hopefully, this tragic statistic will be unrealized. However, as Flanders points out, Vermont has over 8,000 people in treatment for opioid addiction (he does not mention the number who are waiting), making Vermont one of the highest per capita rates in the world. 

Don Keelan

If this fact is accurate, it is one of the greatest catastrophes that Vermont has ever endured. The tragedy remains despite the State’s financial and human treasure attempting to prevent it: hundreds of millions of dollars and professional personnel have been devoted to the crisis. We are still losing lives at 250 a year and climbing. 

How bad is the problem? On a recent Thursday in Burlington, the city’s fire/rescue department was called out over 12 times to deal with drug overdose events. Some calls were for the same individual. Sadly, the dedicated medical personnel at our State’s medical institutions are becoming exhausted and burned out constantly dealing with addiction/overdose patients. 

The problem has many aspects, impacting institutions, businesses, nonprofits, and government from policing, courts, Probation and Corrections, and families. Correction officials note that over 60% of its incarcerated are detained because of drugs. 

In his June piece, Colin Flanders quotes a recovering 76-year-old addict who is now working on the promotion of safe injection sites: “‘We’ve changed our language but,’ he said, pointing to his heart, ‘in here, we still don’t care if they

die.”’ We do care, and it is evident by the State resources and others who have devoted themselves to those impacted by this disease. But what more can be done? 

I am probably the least qualified to address addiction; however, as a columnist, I have a license to present an opinion(s) on how we might change. 

First, the political leadership of Vermont—the Legislature, the Administration, and the Justice system, must stop denying the problem’s severity and place its eradication as the number one issue. 

Second, blizzard the State with educational material that addresses what is taking place and the permanent harm caused by taking illegal drugs. 

Third, make drugs like Narcan, Methadone, and Buprenorphine available in all Vermont towns (Bennington has been waiting years for a Methadone hub center). At the same time, open dozens of Jenna’s Promise sites that can provide not one or two weeks of recovery, but one year. In other words, the leadership of the State should redo H.222 and increase its funding 100 times. 

Fourth, the judicial and law enforcement government branches must aggressively rethink the sentencing of those convicted of distributing illegal drugs and those who do so with death resulting. 

Recently, I wrote a column asking where the young people in Vermont are. After reading Colin Flanders’ piece, I know where many have been. They are in homeless shelters, halfway houses, prisons, recovery centers, hospitals ED and ICUs, and tragically, hundreds are in the State medical examiner’s exam rooms. 

Vermont does not have a great population of young people. At the rate that young adults are dying from overdose, being incarcerated, and ending up in recovery centers, do you need to ask, where are the young people?

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.

9 replies »

  1. If those in charge did not profiteer from drug and human trafficking, it would stop. The world runs on blackmail and corruption – Epstein client list blocked, why? JP Morgan’s ship loaded with cocaine in New York harbor not long ago? If there were no palms being greased from the border to the local main street, there would be no addiction and death from substance abuse in Vermont or anywhere else in the USA. As far as the medical and mental health organizations, they can cure many things and collect billions for doing so, but alcohol and drug addiction? Never apparantly. Gee, I wonder why?

  2. We are still losing lives at 250 a year and climbing…

    There are about 43,000 deaths per year caused by motor vehicles in the United States. Do you believe that you have a right to prohibit automobiles in order to protect us?

    young adults are dying from overdose

    No one is overdosing on purpose: it’s happening because you cannot determine the safe dosage of a drug which is not regulated… and the drugs can’t be regulated because you prohibited them! When you prohibit opium, you create a heroin problem. When you prohibit heroin, you create a fentanyl problem. Prohibition does not reduce the demand for drugs, it only makes them more concentrated & dangerous. As illegal drugs become more expensive, they become more profitable, and more people are tempted to sell them. PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK. What part of that do you not understand???

    government must aggressively rethink the sentencing of those convicted of distributing illegal drugs with death resulting

    Should the distributors of legal drugs which cause death be subject to the same penalties? How about the distributors of junk foods which cause death by diabetes & heart disease? And the sellers of soda laced with aspartame (which causes brain tumors)? What about those who sell glyphosate pesticides which cause cancer? And all of those deaths from the mRNA “vaccines”? Or the deaths from gun sales? …And what makes you think that the death penalty is going to scare the gangsters who have been settling their disputes through violence ever since you enacted prohibition?? —You are either a blithering idiot, or you are extremely insincere and don’t really care about overdose deaths (or the crimewave that prohibition caused.)

    If you claim that your neighbor’s personal freedom of choice can and should be taken away by the stroke of a legislator’s pen, you are essentially claiming that human rights don’t exist — there are only privileges which can be extended or revoked at the pleasure of the state… and you had better be careful when you take up that position, because the rights which YOU value could be disposed of in the same fashion as you trampled the rights of others. If all men have equal rights, you have no right to dictate what kind of medicine others can use in the privacy of their own home. By any other name, you are still a fascist pig, a fraud and a hypocrite.

    as a columnist, I have a license to present an opinion

    And in the case of this web site, that “license” comes from a pathetic coward who has censored countless comments from readers who dare to disagree with him. ( Here is a far better man than you, Guy: )

    “I have been honored to share my thoughts and research with you here at True North Reports. I am greatly saddened that this important resource is closing down, because it has been a true free speech platform. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of considering an opponent’s positions, facts and arguments (and law) thoroughly prior to striding before the bench.”

    • young adults are dying from overdose
      “No one is overdosing on purpose:”

      Really V? According to the VT Dept. of Health, seven 2021 drug over-dose deaths were deemed to be suicide.

      And, of the 217 Vermont residents who died of an opioid overdose in 2021, “… nearly all were classified as being of accidental or undetermined intent (210)”.

      I repeat: “…or undetermined intent”.

      Consider that the VT Dept. of Health listed only one person under the age of 30 to have died from Covid in the first two years of the pandemic. He was 28 years old, and it was an apparent drug overdose. Homicide was suspected. Covid was an afterthought. And we’re to believe this data? These guys are now recommending that everyone “Age 6 months and older”…..”No matter what”….! It’s little wonder hopelessness is rampant these days.

      In my humble opinion, anyone who takes black-market opioids has a suicidal tendency. And until we can return to the social norms of yesteryear (a family-centric existence in a growing economy, with a secure border) when hopelessness was far less prevalent, we’re going to see more of these circumstances. In fact, I suspect that what we’re seeing today is but the tip of this growing iceberg.

    • Perhaps you should review what is going on in Portland, OR or Kensignton Ave, Philadelphia, PA. As you are obviously isolated from witnessing the day to day carnage in the streets of once great cities, you can grandstand on “freedom of choice” to ingest poison and choose addiction. You cheer for open free deadly drug markets? Far be it that you would consider the big picture of what and who actually drives the drug market the USA. Considering Amsterdam – word is they hate seeing Americans come to town as they can’t handle their intoxicants responsibly and create problems for the locals from over indulgence – gee I wonder why? Welcome to the Cluster B society.

  3. “Deaths from gun sales”??? Gun SALES dont cause ANY deaths. The improper, careless, negligent, criminal or legally justifiable use of a gun by a human can cause death. To quote you: “PROHIBITION DOES NOT WORK. What part of that do you not understand???”…

  4. Methamphetamine has been in the illicit drug lexicon for at least 50 years. It’s nothing new.

  5. We are still losing lives at 250 a year and climbing…
    “There are about 43,000 deaths per year caused by motor vehicles in the United States. Do you believe that you have a right to prohibit automobiles in order to protect us?”

    What’s your point V? This is classic false equivalence. In Vermont, we’re losing fewer than 250 people a year to deaths due to drug overdoses. And during the same period, there were 77 motor vehicle deaths. And there are even fewer gun related deaths. So, why does prohibiting automobiles even enter the discussion?

  6. Gee may if Vermont didn’t demonize the traditional 2 parent family and pay women more to stay unmarried and have more children we would have more Vermont children who are willing to be societal contributors instead of takers.