By Carol Casey
According to Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling, Vermont is facing an opiate epidemic that can only be contained by targeting major drug dealers, increasing the number of drug treatment facilities, and engaging community members to help solve the problem. In a presentation to the Charlotte-Shelburne Rotary on Wednesday, Sept. 25, Schirling reported that more than $1.3 million worth of heroin makes it way north of Middlebury every week. Vermont is facing an influx of out-of-state drug dealers who recruit “local talent” – especially girls under 18 who are less likely to be prosecuted – to sell the drugs locally, he stated. The problem has outgrown the capacity of the justice system because there are not enough jails and prisons to hold all the violent offenders. Those who are hooked on drugs need $50,000 to $90,000 a year just to support their habit and often turn to violent crime to obtain their drug money – yet there is a shortage of treatment facilities even for those who ask for help. According to Schirling, Vermont will face a major health crisis in the next 20 years unless effective measures are taken now.
The Burlington Police Department has launched a major offensive against “A-list” dealers, working with the federal courts to ensure that the full force of the law will be brought against them. Community impact teams have been set up to work with people in neighborhoods where drug dealing is rampant. Once an A-list dealer is arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, some 25 or so “B-list” dealers are out of business because their drug supply has been cut off. Because Burlington has clamped down so heavily on drug dealers, they are now moving into other neighboring towns, warned Schirling. He described it as a “whack-a-mole” situation where when one dealer is shut down, another springs up in a different area. Dealing solely with the supply side of the equation won’t solve the problem unless efforts are simultaneously taken to reduce demand by providing better education about drugs and more treatment options, he added.