Over the last 50 years, Vermont, like the rest of the country, has tried various approaches to preventing drug abuse. In the 1960s, it tried to scare kids into staying away from "reefer madness" and other drugs. That didn't really work.
In the 1970s, the kids were given far too much information on the drugs through school programs that also tried to boost their self-esteem.
In the 1980s, the phrase was "Just Say No," but the kids were never really told how to say "no."
But in the 1990s and this decade, the approach has shifted to research-based programs that take a closer look at a child's risk factors.
"We've had to learn from our mistakes," said Robin Rieske, one of the state's drug abuse prevention specialists who works in Brattleboro.
Rieske is one of 10 prevention specialists who are scattered across the state to help build local facilities for drug and alcohol treatment and assure "that every community has this issue on their radar," according to Rieske.
"It definitely pays off," she said. "And our data shows that our efforts are paying off."
In the 2005 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey (which surveyed grades 8 though 12), state numbers show declining or
In numbers just for Windham County students, 43 percent tried marijuana in 2005, down slightly from 45 percent in 2003. The percentage of students who have tried cocaine remained at 9 percent in both 2003 and 2005. Three percent tried heroin in 2005, down from 4 percent in 2003 and 7 percent tried methamphetamine in 2005, down from 9 percent in 2003.
The survey also showed that 22 percent of students were offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property.
But for parents, any number is too high, so the prevention efforts come from all sides.
"We've always approached the issue as proactively as possible in the state," said Rieske.
Much of that is Gov. James Douglas' DETER Initiative, which stands for Drug Education, Treatment, Enforcement and Rehabilitation. The program funds nearly $3 million worth of new programs and coordinates them into a single statewide effort.
"Vermont is doing more than it ever has before to address substance abuse and because of the governor's focus on this issue, our resources are targeted at the most effective solutions. In most cases those solutions are found at the community level," said Jason Gibbs, the governor's press secretary.
Gibbs explained that DETER was put into effect when Douglas came into office in 2003. Over five years, Gibbs said, the state has invested nearly $22 million in drug education, treatment and rehabilitation.
The program also brought a money, such as the "Directions" and "Drug Free Community" grants.
Grants like those often end up going to community drug prevention organizations, like the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition.
The prevention coalition, since 1990, said it has helped in "increasing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol prevention programs" through either direct service or support of other organizations.
And while methamphetamine abuse hasn't become a serious threat in the state, the drug prevention programs aren't leaving America's most dangerous drug out of the picture.
To start with, Douglas signed the Vermont Act 164 Relating to Precursor Drugs of Methamphetamine law in May last year, which essentially has the same conditions as the federal law which requires that certain cold medicines are sold behind the counter. Customers also are only allowed to purchase a 30-day supply and have to present identification and put their name in a log book upon purchase.
Essentially, the Vermont law was created to add state penalties that would be in effect if the federal law is withdrawn.
In Vermont, possession with the intent to make methamphetamine of less than 9 grams could land an offender in prison for up to 1 year with a $2,000 fine. More than 9 grams could mean up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The prevention efforts go beyond just the legislation, a state official said.
"From a health perspective, we have been aggressive," said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs at the Vermont Department of Health.
The treatment providers, she said, are kept up-to-date with the latest training in terms of meth abuse.
"We try to make sure we're getting out information as the issues change," Cimaglio said.
Two years ago, a regional meeting of state law enforcement, health and prevention communities started an effort to expand community education -- that means more students will be getting a lesson about the many dangers of methamphetamine on top of the usual talks about drunk driving and peer pressure.
"It's become part of our prevention vocabulary," said Rieske.
First responders -- police, EMTs and firefighters -- are another group that is getting its fair share of meth knowledge, so they know what to look for if a house is suspected of meth operation.
But if they see changes in the drug scene in Vermont, they will change their strategy, said Cimaglio. The key is being ready.
"You really, realistically, have to be prepared for something like this," said Garrison Courtney, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman. He said states like Vermont are in the best position when they are prepared. If meth producers have the time and freedom to develop roots in the community and a network for distribution, it will take years to take the full network out.
Midwestern states like Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska learned that the hard way, as they were caught completely offguard by the arrival of meth in the 1990s.
"Whatever is being done prevention wise, it seems to be working," said Jenny Burtis, executive director of Turning Point Recovery Center of Windham County, a new drug treatment facility in Brattleboro. She said in the time her recovery center has been open, no person has been admitted listing a primary drug problem with methamphetamine.
But she said the No. 1 problem in terms of alcohol and substance abuse in Vermont is what low-income families face on a daily basis.
"The hopelessness of poverty goes hand in hand with the disease of addiction," she said.
Another big issue, she said, is that while the state does have some good treatment options, there simply aren't enough. When a person decides to finally go to treatment, that is a big moment for them. But if they can't get into a treatment facility within a decent time frame, it becomes a big problem, leaving them weak and vulnerable to fall back into addiction.
Still, the state likes to think its program is working, and will continue to work.
"The best thing about our approach is that we're as comprehensive as possible," said Rieske.
Patrick J. Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.
Part 1: The drug trade hits home
Part 2: The Perfect Route
Part 3: The meth issue: No one is immune