Bennington holds forum to discuss drug problem - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Bennington holds forum to discuss drug problem

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"If this were a year ago and I saw a story like this, I would not come to Bennington," Jeff Grimshaw said.

Grimshaw recently moved to Bennington. He says The New York Times article published last week saying the Southern Vermont town is "in the throes" of a heroin epidemic unfairly highlights where he lives.

Grimshaw was one of several residents who attended a forum Friday morning where area leaders met to discuss a response to the newspaper article.

"So, if there's a silver lining in this article, the silver lining is, I think, it's an opportunity to galvanize all of us together," said Tom Dee of Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

Officials defended their town, saying the story exaggerates the issue.

"We have, through the use of informants, we've been told that there are drug dealers that don't want to come through Vermont, they don't want to come through Bennington," Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said.

Doucette also says Bennington is one of the safest cities in Vermont, with only one armed robbery in the last year.

Also at issue-- reported drug use in school, with one official quoted as saying that drugs are often found on campus.

The story quotes Wayne Godfrey, a Vermont State trooper, as saying, "Everyone is doing it. It's in the high school. The kids are doing it right in school. You find baggies in the hallway."

We tried to contact Trooper Godfrey, but did not hear back.

Others at the meeting came to his defense and to the defense of Bennington schools.

"While drugs in and of themselves are not a regular presence in our building, the impact of the disease of addiction is present," said Kristyn Harrington of Mount Anthony High School.

Area leaders admit there's a problem in Bennington and that they need help, the first steps in recovery.

"I think a big piece of this is to actually move forward and have some type of treatment facility here in Bennington," Doucette said. "We have too many people traveling great distances to receive treatment. The problem is here, it does exist."

Controversy surrounding a proposed methadone clinic in Bennington four years ago halted those plans. But now, town leaders say it is time to start addressing the problem here at home.

Although Grimshaw believes work needs to be done, he says the town he calls home has been unfairly selected as a symbol of the nation's drug problem.

"Bludgeoned Bennington unnecessarily so because Bennington is not unique, this problem does exist, in Bennington it exists nearly everywhere and it's a growing problem," Grimshaw said.

At the meeting, Senator Dick Sears also spoke by phone and said it's time for Bennington to "step up" and have a clinic. Town leaders also said Rutland is an example of a city making progress fighting drug issues, and that they could take a page from the Marble City's book in battling the opiate problem. They say they will meet again, and draft a response to the article within the next few weeks.

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