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Guest editorial: Vermont must rally in war against heroin

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Posted on August 8, 2013 |
By Emerson Lynn



It’s no secret St. Albans has a drug problem. But the problem can’t be localized. It’s not a St. Albans problem. It’s a Vermont problem, and its tentacles reach into every alley corner, every hamlet, every city in the state. For verification, all one has to do is to read the court report, talk to any of the folks involved in law enforcement, or, saddest of all, talk to those within the medical community. It’s pandemic.

The difference between the drug problem now and the drug problems of years prior is the level of addiction. The drug of choice now is heroin, whereas in the not-so-recent past, it was prescription drugs like OxyContin.

Because of public pressure, the makers of OxyContin figured out different ways to manufacture the pill, ways that defy the needs of those who used to abuse the drug. Instead of being able to crush the pill to get the immediate and full effects of the drug, the pills now are not crushable and the effects are delayed. It’s now less desirable.

But the marketplace being what it is, the vacuum is being filled. Other prescription drugs such as Valium, Percocet and others are now in larger demand; hence they have become more expensive.

But it’s the availability of heroin that is most noticeable and most alarming. It’s everywhere.

It’s not hard to understand why: It’s an issue of profitability.

Dealers can buy a bag of heroin for between $2 and $4 in the city. They can come to Vermont and sell that same bag for between $16 and $22. That’s a margin of between 400 percent and 800 percent.

The dealers are also building upon a base that is already addicted. Heroin then becomes promoted as a cheaper buy with a “bigger bang.”

Addiction is addiction but heroin ramps up the addiction level to the point where treating it is far more difficult and the effects more traumatizing. It’s a nasty drug that will claim an increasing number of victims if the scourge is not dealt with.

At this point, it’s probably the number one problem facing Vermont’s criminal justice system.

It’s not a problem relegated to the lower income. It’s something that reaches across all socio-economic groups in Vermont. It starts early among the impressionable and it builds. Once hooked — every dealer’s dream — a client has been converted.

As a city we’ve dealt with drugs and the threat of gangs. Several years ago St. Albans was made the center of a congressional hearing on the subject and strides were taken to combat the problems as were then perceived. And we made a lot of progress.

Obviously, that same sort of localized action is needed when dealing with any significant law enforcement issue. But we err if we confine the problem to a locality. If a city pushes one way the offenders go another. It takes a comprehensive approach to make a difference.

That begins with information. The public doesn’t truly understand the magnitude of the problem before us. We need to know. We need to hear the individual stories. We need to comprehend the totality of what we face if we refuse to act.

Part of the story will be told by law enforcement. But it will need to be reinforced by the broader community before it’s heard. That broader community includes the state and the governor’s office. Vermont needs to be known as a place less hospitable to the trafficking of heroin.

We need to resist the temptation to cordon off the problem. It doesn’t work to push a story that says Burlington, Brattleboro and St. Albans are where the problems are, thinking that it doesn’t exist elsewhere. That excuses others from the need to be part of the solution and it puts undue attention on those named, which makes them more hesitant to step forward in the first place.

The work is not easy. For example, there is considerable evidence that drug dealers make money on both ends of the transaction. They buy heroin cheaply, sell high and use the profits to buy guns in Vermont (cheaply), selling them for higher prices in the city. It’s easier to buy the guns here than it is in the city … how do we address that?

Step number one: Recognize the problem for what it is. No more denial. Spread the story. Act as one. Start now.

— Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger

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