Per capita, Vermont leads the nation with the most writers, libraries, colleges, Iraq War veterans, and Peace Corps volunteers. In 2009, Vermont was also ranked by the United Health Foundation as the “healthiest” state in the country, with a low rate of obesity and childhood poverty.
Vermont also ranks highest in the nation for illicit drug use, as well as underage drinking.
Fifteen percent of Vermonters say they’ve used marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs during the past month, according to a survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And although the rate has slowed a bit since the 1990s, another national survey shows that 37 percent of teenagers in the Green Mountains drank beer, wine, and/or liquor during the past month.
Cloudy and cold weather, liberal politics, and close proximity to large cities make the rural state susceptible to high rates of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence, according to Barbara Cimaglio, the Vermont Department of Health’s deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs.
"You have everything from the colder climate, which tends to be a reason some people give, to more liberal attitudes, to higher income levels, to people having more access, but I don't think anyone knows for sure," Barbara Cimaglio told Business Insider.
Although heroin addiction is not uncommon in Vermont’s seedier cities, places like Newport and St. Albans, marijuana — homegrown or imported — accounts for much of the state’s drug use. Vermont ranked highest in the United States for marijuana consumption, with 13 percent of the population saying they had used the drug during the past month.
"I think what drives this up tends to be the higher use of marijuana, and if you look at the states [with high illicit drug use], they tend to be the states that have decriminalized or have more favorable attitudes toward use of marijuana," Cimaglio said.
With the most miles of unpaved roadway in the country, and deep pockets resistant to cellular coverage by AT&T, most of Vermont’s drug problem may derive from its location.
"I think Vermont is really in sort of a perfect storm because we're on that highway between Montreal, Boston, New York, and also going to Philadelphia," Cimaglio said. "You have to go through Vermont to get to some of the bigger cities like Boston, so it seems like some people are just trafficking along the way and Vermont is one of the stops."
In recent years, large shipments of heroine have come to Vermont from big-city dealers hungry for big profits, Seven Days, an independent newspaper in Burlington, reported earlier this year. Traffickers driving from New York City, Boston, and other points — in addition to cross-border movement with nearby Quebec — sell $5 bags of heroin for as much as six times the price in Rutland, the state’s southernmost city. Heroin has grown more popular in the state, in addition to prescription drugs, according to newspaper reports.
Aside from programs intended to curtail underage drinking in the state, Vermont has responded to its substance abuse problem by expanding addiction treatment services, with a new methadone clinic in Burlington, as well as law enforcement, with police in that city going door to door in search of illegal activity, according to WCAX-TV.