"This is the single biggest threat to the state of Vermont," Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel said.
Merkel is talking about heroin. Two days ago his department took down one of the larger suppliers in Addison County. Police say the Brooklyn, N.Y., man was operating out of a Leicester home, peddling thousands of dollars of heroin in just days.
"The guy gets here on the 15th of December and by the 17th he's got half the heroin sold. He sold 550 to 600 bags of heroin. It's amazing," Merkel said.
But the chief says the sobering reality is that another drug trafficker is waiting in the wings to pick up where Brian Cumberbatch left off.
"There's a hell of a demand. A hell of a demand," Merkel said.
It's a trend seen across the state. The Vermont Drug Task Force says the number of heroin trafficking investigations has nearly tripled since 2009. The state's first major heroin wave ended in the 1990s when addiction shifted to prescription painkillers. But police say heroin is now making a comeback after drug companies reformulated OxyContin to make it harder to abuse.
"It was a resurgence and now it's far exceeding what we've ever seen before," said Lt. Matthew Birmingham of the Vt. Drug Task Force.
And the quantities of heroin coming in are unprecedented.
"We used to investigate circles where they would bring 100 to 200 bags at a time," Birmingham said. "Now, we are seeing consistently people who are bringing thousands of bags at a time into the state and multiple grams of raw product."
Authorities say low-level dealers who used to make day trips to source cities, buying enough heroin to feed their habits while making a few bucks, have been replaced by organized out-of-state drug rings with gang connections.
"The majority of them are organized criminal groups and the members of these groups are very violent," Birmingham said. "We have the potential of having Vermont citizens wrapped up in that and anyone who gets in the middle of that could get hurt."
And police say the traffickers are cashing in. They buy a bag, or one dose of heroin, in large cities for $2, and then sell it to Vermont addicts for ten times as much, wreaking havoc on addicted families.
"Where did that money come from? Who's not getting fed tonight? Who's not paying their rent? Who's not paying their heating bill?" Merkel asked.
"The solution is not easy," Birmingham said.
Authorities say curbing the epidemic is going to take the coordinated effort of police, treatment professionals and lawmakers.
"I would expect that we'll have a discreet group of people looking at it, as well as committees of jurisdiction. I think it will be an area of focus this year," said Rep. Shap Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker.
Authorities are calling for a three-pronged solution: they say the traffickers must face tougher sentences, public awareness around the dangers of heroin must increase and demand for the drug must decrease, by improving access to treatment programs. There are currently about 400 people stuck on waiting lists at the state's methadone clinics.
Friday, December 6 2013 6:31 AM EST2013-12-06 11:31:48 GMT
A welfare check turned into a dangerous situation in Brattleboro. Officers were called to Valley Street Thursday to check on a 39-year-old woman. While on the scene, police say the woman grabbed a largeMore >>
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Friday, December 6 2013 6:28 AM EST2013-12-06 11:28:49 GMT
A plea deal may be in the works for the man who police say torched a Burlington bell tower. The College Street Congregational Church was badly damaged back in October by a fire investigators say was arson.More >>
A plea deal may be in the works for the man who police say torched a Burlington bell tower.More >>
Friday, December 6 2013 6:22 AM EST2013-12-06 11:22:45 GMT
A Vermont family is homeless after fire destroyed their Concord home. Officials say the fire broke out Thursday afternoon on Ladd Road just before 4 p.m. By the time fire crews arrived on the scene theMore >>
A Vermont family is homeless after fire destroyed their Concord home. More >>
Friday, December 6 2013 6:14 AM EST2013-12-06 11:14:08 GMT
Dozens of Vermont nurses are headed to the Philippines to help victims of a deadly storm. Last month, a typhoon tore across the eastern Philippines, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands. TheMore >>
Dozens of Vermont nurses are headed to the Philippines to help victims of a deadly storm.More >>
Friday, December 6 2013 6:09 AM EST2013-12-06 11:09:59 GMT
For years, Vermonters have described their favorite maple syrup with a letter grade or as Vermont Fancy. But beginning next year, those grading rules will change. Producers will begin labeling VermontMore >>
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Friday, December 6 2013 6:03 AM EST2013-12-06 11:03:14 GMT
Prosecutors are calling for stiffer probation penalties for a Vermont publisher who swindled retirees out of their life savings. Last April Peter Campbell-Copp pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felonyMore >>
Prosecutors are calling for stiffer probation penalties for a Vermont publisher who swindled retirees out of their life savings.More >>
Friday, December 6 2013 5:56 AM EST2013-12-06 10:56:32 GMT
There are new developments in the search for a missing New Hampshire teen. The FBI now confirms that the mother of 15-year-old Abigail Hernandez has had contact with her daughter since she vanished twoMore >>
There are new developments in the search for a missing New Hampshire teen. More >>
Thursday, December 5 2013 6:59 PM EST2013-12-05 23:59:01 GMT
Hundreds of Vermonters could lose unemployment benefits early if Congress doesn't act. Congress expanded packages after the 2008 economic crash but the offer is set to expire. Regular unemployment benefits,More >>
Hundreds of Vermonters could lose their unemployment benefits early if Congress doesn't act. Regular unemployment benefits will not be affected. But additional emergency benefits will expire before the end of December.More >>