"A mid level heroin habit could cost as much as $90,000 a year to support," said Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling.
Vermont police say opiate addiction, and its associated crimes, affect nearly every community in the state -- hundreds of homes burglarized -- stolen goods pawned for drug money. Big city dealers with ties to organized crime are setting up in the Green Mountains to make quick cash.
"It's economics. If they couldn't make money, they wouldn't be here," said Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen.
Police chiefs from around Chittenden County joined state police, prosecutors and federal authorities to announce a renewed war on heroin. They warned, drug traffickers caught in Vermont will be charged federally, and promised to beef up interagency foot patrols in affected neighborhoods.
"You may see UVM, South Burlington, Essex and Burlington walking together. You may see ATF, FBI, Burlington and Essex walking together," Chief Schirling said.
"We are all at the table as one, speaking across jurisdictional boundaries, whether it be state or federal," said South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple.
The collaborative effort executed through these community impact teams started in Burlington last fall. Since then police say they've worked together to catch drug smugglers using the MegaBus and arrest key players allegedly running drug dynasties in school zones and out of area hotels. Although heroin is not a new problem, state and federal cooperation is one way to show taxpayers that their money is being used to combat what authorities call Vermont's biggest public safety threat.
"I think that there's much more willingness to take a multi-faceted approach towards this," said U.S. Attorney for Vermont Tris Coffin.
Authorities admit the best police work cannot completely wipe out the demand -- treatment must be part of the long term solution. "We've simply got to reduce the backlog of over 700 people waiting for methadone treatment in Chittenden County alone," Chief Schirling said.
An omnibus opiate bill before lawmakers and a new approach to drug treatment called the hub and spoke model -- with 5 treatment facilities statewide -- aim to change that. "Those facilities will become places where individuals could come in have an assessment make a determination about their clinical need and what's the most appropriate intervention strategy," said The Howard Center's Bob Bick.
The only hub facility that's currently up and running is in Burlington. Officials hope to add three more hubs in the Northeast Kingdom, Rutland, Central and South Eastern Vermont online in the next six months. But treatment professional estimate it will take 18 to 24 months to completely clear treatment backlogs.