Shumlin calls for limiting access to prescription opiates
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin, in his final State of the State address on Thursday, called for limiting the numbers of pills allowed in prescriptions for opiate painkillers, a new education program for young adults and divesting the state's investment portfolio of coal companies and ExxonMobil.
The Democratic governor pointed out that emissions from coal-fired power plants are carried into Vermont, and he singled out ExxonMobil among oil companies because the company has been accused of misleading the public on what it knew about climate change. He said the state should study divesting from all fossil fuel companies.
"ExxonMobil's own scientists have long known about the dangers of global warming, and chose to conceal that from the public," Shumlin said. "At the same time that they were building their oil rigs taller to account for rising sea levels, they were funding front groups of scientists to deny climate change is real. This is a page right out of Big Tobacco."
A message left for ExxonMobil's media staff drew no immediate response.
Shumlin had equally stinging criticism for the federal Food and Drug Administration, which he blamed for approving painkillers that have "lit the match that ignited America's opiate and heroin addiction crisis." He pointed to OxyContin and Zohydro, which Shumlin labeled "OxyContin on steroids."
"Just a few months ago, the FDA approved OxyContin for kids. You cannot make this stuff up," he said.
Shumlin called for a limit of 10 doses of such painkillers for patients after minor procedures and new guidelines limiting the numbers after major surgery.
The FDA media office did not immediately reply to an email seeking a response to Shumlin's comments.
In other highlights of the speech, Shumlin, who announced in June he won't seek a fourth two-year term in 2016, said:
— He wanted to spend $2 million on a partnership with Vermont's public colleges and university to provide "a semester of free courses and support services to help first generation and low income students get back to school."
— He wants 35 new positions assigned to the state's child protection agency, the Department for Children and Families, which was shaken by the shooting death of a social worker, Lara Sobel, in August. The DCF caseload has grown sharply, especially due to very young children with opiate-addicted parents.
— He supports legalization of marijuana, but wants to take a cautious approach, including continuing the ban on candies and other edibles that contain the drug's active ingredient.
— He supports a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick time for workers, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.
Shumlin's speech drew fire from Republicans, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate.
"Today we heard virtually nothing about the plight of property tax payers in Vermont," said Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington. He criticized a plan announced by the governor to declare a moratorium or repeal limits on school spending by local districts.
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