Readers react to story about Bennington's heroin problem in the New York Times
BENNINGTON -- Local readers of the New York Times got to read about their home in Thursday's edition, but they may not have liked what they read.
Not that they would necessarily have been surprised.
With the state's largest drug sweep seeing the arrest of 48 people early last year, followed by a smaller sweep in September and numerous arrests of people suspected of being heroin dealers, the New York Times ran an article headlined "Bulwark in Revolutionary War, Town in Vermont Faces Heroin Scourge."
A photo ran at the top of the front page, while the article ran on page A16. The Times' online edition carried the headline "Heroin Scourge Overtakes a ‘Quaint' Vermont Town."
Bennington is not the first Vermont town to have its heroin problem printed in the Times. Rutland holds that dubious honor with an article titled "A Call to Arms on a Vermont Heroin Epidemic," which ran Feb. 27 on page A1.
The Banner shared the article about Bennington on its Facebook page and it drew strong reactions, many echoing what has been said on the Banner's own articles about heroin and other drug activity, but some rejected the notion that the town's drug problem is all-consuming.
"All I have to say is they shoulda done more research on it before they say our town is filled with heroin users! Not everyone here is a junkie!" wrote Facebook user Amanda McGovern.
Some, however, did not feel that way. "Every Bennington resident should be disgusted and embarrassed by this," wrote Facebook user Melissa Frechette. "This is not the town I grew up in and nor (do) I want to raise my children in. There is no more ‘safe' here."
The article, written by New York Times New England Bureau Chief Katharine Seelye, features comments from local heroin addicts, a doctor at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and a Vermont State Police trooper.
It contrasts what the people suffering addiction have to say about their lives, losing custody of their children and having their teeth removed to better acquire prescription pills, with things Bennington would likely rather be known for, the bell on the Old First Church, the Bennington Battle Monument, and the local arts community.
"We were really just looking for a different kind of place to contrast with Rutland, which we wrote about last week, and Bennington has that quintessential New England feel," wrote Seelye in an email to the Banner. "We generally have to let the stories speak for themselves, but there's not much to say beyond that."
What effect the article will have on outsider perceptions remains to be seen.
"The sad thing is it overshadows all of the good we are doing," said Kathy Hoisington, owner of Hoisington Realty. "It's very disturbing but don't think any of us are unaware this is going on. It's not just Bennington, it's not just Rutland."
She said locally it looks and feels like Bennington has a massive drug problem because the community is so small and the problem so easily seen. Hoisington said the drug problem is nationwide and outsiders may have a better view of the town in context with everywhere else.
Hoisington said her firm was working with a couple from Connecticut last week who sought to buy a house around Bennington and they were aware of the drug epidemic. "They were quite broad-minded about it. They said, ‘It's not just you, we have the same problem.'"
That sentiment has been echoed by many prospective homebuyers, she said. It's the sellers in Bennington who are the most upset by the press surrounding heroin.
Hoisington said there are many activities locally young people can get involved in that cost little to nothing. Hoisington pointed out the last paragraph of Seelye's article in which Stephanie Predel is quoted, "There's nothing to do here. Come wintertime, everyone is inside using."
"They are just the product of a generation that thinks there's nothing to do," Hoisington said.
Sue Maguire, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School, said no evidence of heroin use has ever been found in the school, as was indicated in Seelye's when quoting a local Vermont State Police trooper. Maguire said she has reached out to the trooper, meanwhile the local barracks commander, Lt. Reginald Trayah, said he will speak to the school about the quote.
Others were nervous to see Bennington cast in a bad light in a such a broadly read publication, but on the other hand are glad efforts are being taken to attack the problem.
Lynn Green, owner of The Four Chimneys Inn, said she was happy Gov. Peter Shumlin made opiate addiction the main topic of his state of the state address but fears the state's woes may take center stage.
"Bennington has so much to offer and this is not how I want our town to be known in the New York Times," she said.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.
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