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Analysis – Service Journalism

Vermont Tackles Heroin, With Progress in Baby Steps

This article, by the New York Times‘s Katharine Seelye, tackles a social issue that I had initially planned to research and write about for this project – the opioid epidemic, particularly in rural New England states like Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire. Too often, these locales share common similarities that may enable or allow the crisis to happen and persist: they are cash-strapped, faced with lower prospects for employment, and generally less able to access adequate health care and mental health resources. 
 
In this article, Seelye starts at an individual, anecdotal level to humanize a problem that has too often been discussed and analyzed through a strictly clinical or political lens. She discusses Michael Kenney’s personal problems, while simultaneously making inroads to a wider discussion the root of the problem in his town and rural Vermont – clinics were over-inundated with wait lists and under-staffed with the right medical professionals, so those who might’ve been inclined to get help continued to feed their addiction.
 
However, the article – and story – quickly reach the turning point in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th paragraphs: “He was so discouraged that he continued taking painkillers and shooting heroin. Then the phone rang. It was the clinic….Mr. Kenney says he is alive today because of the clinic’s sudden ability to treat him.” The article then pivots into how exactly the clinic was able to help him on the road to recovery, while also enumerating a laundry list of the state and VT. Gov. Peter Shumlin’s programs dedicated to addressing the “full-blown heroin crisis.”
Such programs include directing aid and grants to addiction clinics, expanding their patient list and the hours of their operation, moving high-priority users to the top of waiting lists, and instituting a good Samaritan law (like BC’s help-seeking policy), to name just a few. The article also effectively uses data and statistics to back up its fundamental argument that Vermont is making headway in its fight against the crisis:
“40% more Vermonters are seeking treatment for addiction today than a year ago..The state spent $8.7 million in the 2014 fiscal year for methadone and buprenorphine treatments at five regional centers that serve as hubs. It raised the amount to $13.3 million in 2015, and Mr. Shumlin has proposed allocating $18.2 million in 2016…The clinic was able to admit many of the 200 people on its waiting list, and it whittled that list to 12 people last summer.”
Overall, the article is very effective in its ability to distill important information, facts, and figures about the crisis, while also humanizing it and contextualizing at a local, community, and state level. It explains how progress is being made and backs this up with the anecdotes and statistics as corroboration.
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