Vermont State Police Cpl. George Rodriguez is one of about 80 law enforcement officers working Operation Northern Lights, a large-scale drug sweep through Franklin County.
"We are seeing everything from heroin, cocaine, pills, meth. You can get anything in this area," Rodriguez said.
And Rodriguez says the addiction epidemic is only getting worse. So, several police agencies have teamed up to cutoff the supply of drugs-- particularly heroin and prescription pills-- coming into the county.
"I think the frustrating part is we know so much, but what we know and what we can charge are two different things a lot of times," Rodriguez said.
The Vermont Drug Task Force identified 50 targets. Most are low-level street dealers, not out-of-state suppliers. The mission is the culmination of a 6-month investigation. We rode along with Rodriguez and Lt. John Flannigan as they searched for a woman accused of selling suboxone. They found Courtney Levick, 23, at her Swanton home. She was one of 35 suspects arrested Tuesday. But the team's second target, Cory Tedford, 32, remains at large.
"If you conduct this kind of business, then we'll find you and you will be arrested and you will go through the system," Flannigan said.
That's the message to the eight suspects still wanted by police.
"Today's a good day for law enforcement. It's a good day for Franklin County," Vt. State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance said.
Police say these arrests will have an immediate effect on the community.
"There can be an increase in crime because we've had an impact on the supply," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.
Police plan to notify area hospitals, like Northwestern Medical Center, about the sweep so staff can prepare for a possible influx of patients suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
"When our partners in law enforcement do their jobs, the amount of the available drugs are reduced. When it occurs at this magnitude of success, it precipitates a reduction in the availability of narcotics for those who will be ill without them," said Dr. William Roberts of Northwestern Medical Center.
And medical professionals warn parents that medicine cabinets, not drug dealers, are where most addiction begins.
"It doesn't matter how many prescriptions we prescribe as long as every dose is used by the person who's supposed to receive it," Roberts said. "If you have some left over in your medicine cabinet, you're creating an opportunity for experimentation that's the beginning of addiction."
Many of the alleged drug dealers rounded up Tuesday were arraigned and released on court-ordered conditions. Only two were held without bail. Police and prosecutors say the challenge now is to prevent them from selling again. Each suspect was charged with at least one felony with a minimum penalty of five years behind bars.
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