Renewing the War on Heroin

Burlington police Chief Michael Schirling was in the news last week, commenting on the problem of heroin in his community and across the state. His comment for WCAX was about the high cost of a heroin addiction and how it ends up being funded. “A mid level heroin habit could cost as much as $90,000 a year to support," the chief said.

That’s a pretty good chunk of money, and addicts who are not able to pull down enough with a high-paying job are left looking for other ways to make enough. One way, unfortunately, is to sell heroin themselves. Another is to turn to property crime.

The need to constantly fund another fix means even a single addiction can spawn enough crime to bump up burglary statistics and cops say all of Vermont is affected.

The price for heroin in our state also make it an attractive destination for dealers wanting to sell drugs. Last month, for example, WCAX reported on a traffic stop (on Interstate 91) where police found a Massachusetts man carrying 200 grams of cocaine and 200 bags of heroin. The man was stopped in Guilford. He was 20 years-old.

The comments about heroin from police came as they announced a renewed effort to stamp out the drug in Chittenden County. Chief Schirling made a point of mentioning a collaborative effort between local, state and federal agencies to get at the heroin problem. The “war on heroin” will feature tough federal penalties – prosecution will be at the federal level instead of the state level, often a choice when deciding how to charge the same crime.

Authorities admit the best police work cannot completely wipe out the demand -- treatment must be part of the long term solution. "We've simply got to reduce the backlog of over 700 people waiting for methadone treatment in Chittenden County alone," Chief Schirling said.

To his credit, the Chief also mentioned a seeming loss of interest in treatment in Vermont. He cited a backlog of 700 addicts waiting to get into methadone treatment programs in the state.

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