Philip Seymour Hoffman's heroin problem does not constitute a crisis

It’s certainly true that there can be regional spikes even if national usage rates are flat. But according to Vermont’s Department of Health, in 2012 there were just nine deaths classified as “heroin involved” (a category that doesn’t mean heroin was the sole or even the principal cause of death). Taking the governor at his word, that means there were fewer than 18 deaths last year in Vermont in which heroin was a factor. (2013 data were not available.)

Those deaths are sad, but in a state with 626,000 residents, they should not be driving major decisions about law enforcement, medical resources, and health policy. As the Vermont Department of Health reports, “mortality due to drugs in Vermont has not changed greatly over the past nine years….these data do not suggest that deaths from any one specific type of drug is increasing or decreasing over the span of multiple years.” The 2013 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that just 2 percent of high school students say they have ever tried heroin, down from 3 percent in 2011. If Vermont is at the forefront of a “major comeback of heroin in the U.S.” (as the Los Angeles Times puts it), we all need to take a few deep breaths.

Indeed, the history of crusades and legislation related to drug deaths teaches us that lawmakers should proceed with caution and resist overreaction.