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State police: K-9 teams to patrol Vt. prisons - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

State police: K-9 teams to patrol Vt. prisons

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WATERBURY, Vt. -

Another sign of the hold opiates have on Vermont. Corrections officials say the most smuggled drug in Vermont prisons is an opiate substitute.

Now, the Department of Corrections is turning to dogs for help cracking down on the drug trade behind bars.

Officers at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility search pieces of mail destined for inmates looking for contraband especially drugs about 100 times a day.

"We're not finding illegal drugs daily, but it is something that is not infrequent, said Edward Adams, Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility superintendent.

The mail is just one way drugs are sneaking into Vermont's prisons. Officials say prison visiting rooms, work crews and inmates hiding drugs in their bodies when they know they're heading to jail are the other ways Vermont offenders get their fixes behind bars.

"A quantity of powder found in one of the living units we have," said Adams.

Corrections officers search common areas every 24 hours, check cells regularly and visitors are screened. But now corrections is upping its approach contracting with the Vermont State Police to have its K-9s do random sweeps on a regular basis.

"We're using this as a proactive model as opposed to a reactive model," said Mike Touchette, Vermont Department of Corrections.

State Police K-9's are nothing new in Vermont jails, but random sweeps are. Up until now drug dogs were only called after suspected drugs were found. And while officials say the drug problem in jail has been ongoing, they cannot quantify how bad it is or whether it has gotten worse.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: Have drugs become a bigger problem in Vermont prisons?

Touchette: We don’t have the data to quantify that, to say there is an increase in it. We are always conscious of the amount of contraband in our facilities. Its a safety issue for our staff and inmates.

What corrections officials do know is that the most smuggled drug has changed over the last decade.

"What used to be, when I started my career, marijuana and occasionally some issue with cocaine, everything now seems to be focused on buprenorphine and tobacco," said Adams.

Bupenorphine is a prescription drug, like methadone, used to help opiate addicts kick their habits and withdrawal symptoms. It can be powdered or on a very thin strip and the strip is easy to hide inside a letter or postcard.

"And they're very valuable inside a correctional facility," said Adams.

The Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility houses between 140 and 150 women. And Corrections officials there estimate upward of 75 percent of them are there for crimes tied to substance abuse or have a substance abuse history.

"The population that we manage oftentimes comes to us with significant substance abuse histories and just because they've entered the doors of the correctional facility doesn't mean substance dependencies are gone overnight," said Touchette.

Opiate addicts already enrolled in treatment before they go to prison can continue to get methadone and buprenorphine while serving time. Corrections transport them to local clinics for their doses, but officials say those are the minority. Other addicts who enter prison do not have access to treatment behind bars and that can fuel demand on the black market.

The state is spending $25,000 on the contract for the K-9s and officials expect the random searches will deter more drugs from coming into prison than they actually find.

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