Our Opinion: Arrests a reminder of epidemic's severity

The past two days have been full of tales of guns, heroin, federal agents and cooperating witnesses, as law enforcement officials arrested individuals alleged to be major players in selling illegal drugs.

Sounds like a scene from "The Wire," the critically acclaimed HBO drama about the drug trade on the gritty streets of Baltimore, right?

Wrong. It's our Vermont backyard, where five drug-related arrests were made in Manchester in a single day.

Why would some of the individuals, according to law enforcement affidavits supporting their arrests on multiple drug charges, allegedly make the trip between Massachusetts and Vermont two to three times a week and risk arrest for a criminal enterprise?

A quote from the affidavit says it all: "Because business was good."

Good enough because there was demand for the poison they were allegedly conspiring to sell.

We'll not speak about the guilt or innocence of the accused. That's for a jury of their peers to decide, and for state prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. They'll have their day in court.

But one thing is for certain: The opioid epidemic is not going away, despite our best efforts, and it's going to take a heroic effort to make a dent in the demand for these poisons.

No user of heroin or opiate painkillers sets out to become addicted, let alone put themselves and their loved ones through the hellscape that is part and parcel of that miserable illness. But as long as there is a market in our communities for these drugs, there will be entrepreneurs willing to break the law and sow the seeds of human misery for a quick buck — often in order to support their own habits.

It brings us back to a message we heard earlier this year at a "Fed Up" rally at Manchester's Factory Point Town Green.

Kenneth Sigsbury, the executive director of Bennington-based Turning Point Center, said this: "My feeling is, instead of everyone staying in their own lane, that prevention, treatment and recovery have to work together. I don't think we can fix it, but I know we can make it a lot better."

There are a lot of local people working on this problem, in medicine, law enforcement, mental health and education, and their efforts are all welcome and important. We're betting that a number of those folks are already working together. But to the extent they're not, we think it's time to coordinate these efforts, to prevent addiction before it starts, treat it when it happens and deter would-be criminals from selling these drugs. A multi-faceted epidemic needs a multi-faceted response.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there's a stigma that comes with addiction, and it's time to make that stigma go away. The fear of judgement keeps people fighting addiction, themselves or in their families, from speaking up and seeking help.

We know that guilt, shame and silence do not make problems go away. If we want to stop the supply of these drugs, cutting off the demand is paramount. And to that end, we need to force addiction out of the shadows and into the light of day, where it can be seen and confronted.


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