The New York Times on Thursday lead with a photo of a young Bennington addict, and inside included a story about our town's heroin problem.
True to the article, "Heroin scourge overtakes a ‘quaint' Vermont town," Bennington has a heroin problem, an opiate problem, and an overall drug problem. This is news that the Banner has reported on regularly and frequently. Sad to say it's rare that a week goes by and we don't have a heroin bust (three major dealers were arrested by Bennington Police last week alone), overdose or other drug activity to report on.
But, let's not forget that heroin is a problem in, I daresay, every town, every state and every country.
Here, in our small community -- a community that can still be called quaint, by the way -- the reality of the drug's destructive path and the lack of local treatment options is shocking.
"The quaint town of Bennington has had a rude awakening of drugs," said Wayne Godfrey, a Vermont state trooper quoted in the Times article. "Everyone is doing it," he said of heroin.
If it's true that "everyone" is doing heroin in Bennington, we need to do more to get a handle on this problem. And fast. But also, we need to check the perception of the problem.
One of my staff recently surmised that 50 percent of people in town are doing drugs of some sort.
This is indeed a bleak picture of Bennington.
Like you, we at The Banner see the good and the bad in Bennington every day. I believe the good outweighs the bad, and it's a nice place to live and work. That's not to say we can ignore the drug problem or the town's other issues.
Melissa Frechette posted this reaction to the Times article on the Banner's Facebook page: "Every Bennington resident should be disgusted and embarrassed by this. This is not the town I grew up in and nor I want to raise my children in. There is no more ‘safe' here."
Kitsia Sausville said: "I think this article puts into focus how fast this problem is growing, for people of all ages. Many of you insist on pointing fingers, choosing to blame the problem on other cities, and though it is a disturbing and upsetting portrayal of our town, this is the sad reality we each face."
It is sad, but we can change it.
In January, Gov. Peter Shumlin made Vermont's heroin crisis the focus of his State of the State speech.
"The time has come for us to stop quietly averting our eyes from the growing heroin addiction in our front yards while we fear and fight treatment facilities in our backyards," Shumlin said.
Shumlin said then that more than $2 million worth of heroin and other opiates are trafficked into Vermont each week. Moreover, almost 80 percent of inmates in the state are jailed on drug-related charges.
Current treatment options for Bennington County residents include a Greenfield, Mass., facility and some doctors who will prescribe Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. The Rutland clinic has opened up more spaces, but there is still a waiting list.
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced a number of bills this session seeking to tackle the problems surrounding addiction.
"Most people recognize that you're not going to arrest your way out of this problem," said Sears during a visit to the Banner in February. He said some of the legislation being introduced at the state level focuses on deterring drug-related crime by increasing maximum jail sentences.
Bennington resident Polly van der Linde posted this reaction to the Times article on the Banner's Facebook page: "Treatment and more jobs (more businesses to move into town) are necessary to turn this around. We must work harder as a community to make this possible."
In southern Vermont, we need more treatment programs, expansions of current treatment centers, and the institution of rapid intervention programs, says the governor.
No one seems to want a methadone clinic in town, but maybe that would help.
Also quoted in the Times article, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said: "A lot of people are afraid that if you build it, they will come, and they don't want a bunch of addicts hanging around. I hate to say it, but guess what? We already have them."
So, let's find a way help them.
What would help the drug problem here in Bennington? Improving treatment, awareness, education and enforcement.