Tuesday April 16, 2013

BURLINGTON (AP) -- Federal, state and local law enforcement are working together to aggressively fight a surge in heroin and other drugs coming into Vermont, authorities said Monday.

In the last two years Vermont has seen a rise in heroin and opiate prescription medications, officials said.

To combat that, federal, state, and local law enforcement have set up Community Impact Teams in Chittenden County to share information, target offenders and work with others in the community to prevent crime, officials said.

"The message is do not expect to sell drugs here for easy profits. There will be a stiff price for doing so," U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said at a news conference in Burlington.

The teams will continue to work with youth centers, schools and others to boost crime prevention and educational efforts; target repeat offenders, violent criminals and those dealing drugs in the city neighborhoods; expand food patrols, traffic stops and use of drug sniffing dogs; and put extra patrols in areas know for drug dealing, officials said. The efforts will continue and expand this spring and summer, said Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling.

"If you continue to deal drugs on our streets and in our neighborhoods and/or to be involved in crime that harms our communities, we will use every available resource -- led by the office of the United States Attorney and our federal law enforcement partners -- to swiftly and surely bring you to justice," he said.

Over the last six months Coffin’s office has indicted over 30 defendants in Chittenden County for substantial heroin and cocaine trafficking, he said. But the problem spreads beyond Chittenden County.

A week ago, Coffin and other authorities discussed a similar problem in Rutland, where the police chief called the rise in drug addiction "mind boggling." Most of the drugs are coming in from East Coast cities like New York or cities in western Massachusetts. But they also come from Philadelphia, Detroit or Chicago.

But law enforcement can’t solve the problem alone, Coffin said. Drug treatment and prevention must be part of the plan, he said.

"We must reduce the demand for opiates among addicts. That means increasing access to drug treatment. It means education to limit as much as possible the people who fall into addiction," he said.