Vermont is known for it's picturesque landscapes and breathtaking views, attracting thousands of leaf peepers and skiing enthusiasts every year. But now federal prosecutors say the Green Mountains are also becoming a hotspot for a more sinister crowd.
"Vermont has become an attractive place for people from away to come to sell heroin for a premium markup, and that's attracted more serious criminals," said U.S. Attorney for Vermont Tris Coffin. Coffin says the rampant drug trade has become one of Vermont's top public safety concerns. So far this year 65 heroin trafficking defendants have been indicted in Vermont. It's an unprecedented caseload and one that has nearly doubled every year for the last five years. "That's both a reflection of the increase in the trafficking activity and a reflection of the response. We've really tried to crack down on heroin trafficking in this state," he said.
Last week authorities made one of the largest heroin seizures in state history. Two New York men were allegedly caught trafficking 9,000 bags of heroin into the state. The drugs had an estimated street value of $126,000. "There was a time where a thousand bag seizure was a huge heroin seizure in Vermont -- that's not a huge heroin seizure anymore," Coffin said.
Not only is more heroin coming into the state but Coffin says the caliber of trafficker is getting more dangerous. Many are now members of organized crime and street gangs from large metro areas like New York City. There a bag of heroin sells for six bucks -- here addicts will pay three times as much. "It has to do with heroin becoming a drug of choice for organizations seeking to make money. And it has to do with the fact that when you have an addicted population you've got a really strong demand for that product -- and we have that in Vermont," Coffin said.
According to the health department the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction is up 67-percent in the last decade. "One of the good things that's come out of this -- I've seen an unprecedented willingness of people to dig in and do the work and partner and team with other law enforcement agencies to get what needs to get done for Vermonters," Coffin said.
Coffin says that together, law enforcement is making significant progress, but that more work needs to be done. He estimates that the number of trafficking cases will level out in the next year and-a-half as traffickers get the message -- that if they're caught in Vermont they're likely to be prosecuted in the federal system, where they'll face stiffer penalties.
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