The Fix: Drug Informants

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont authorities say opioids are killing people at an alarming rate and devastating families across the region. In "The Fix: Opioid Pipeline," Channel 3's Céline McArthur provides an exclusive, in depth look at the opiate pipeline to our region and what's being done to fight it.

DRUG INFORMANTS ROLE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST OPIOIDS

They say the dealers who are selling fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine are skilled at operating in plain sight, which can put innocent people in danger, without even knowing it. To get to these dealers, investigators enlist the help of confidential informants who have an in-depth knowledge off the crisis.

"It could be anybody you know. Anybody these days. You literally could have no idea," said a 25-year-old woman who works as a confidential informant for police. We are not identifying her to protect her safety. She says she knows exactly who's dealing and who's using in her central Vermont community. "I can look at somebody and say, 'that person is a drug dealer.'"

She knows, because she was a drug user. "All I wanted to do was party and experiment with drugs, and do this and do that, and be free... I did cocaine, I tried Molly," she said. "I went through a rough patch in my life and you know I asked my mom for help. I asked friends for help to keep my daughter safe while I made some bad choices."

Choices that got her arrested. "Handcuffed, eight-months pregnant, at a table. It was horrible. It was absolutely miserable," she said. At one point, she says she wanted to die. "I attempted to down a bottle of ibuprofen."

She says she's now clean, and after confessing to taking part in a string of burglaries, she agreed to help the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force figure out who's dealing what, and when. "If there's an overdose around or if there's heroin going around that is heavily with fentanyl, sometimes they'll come to me and say, 'Hey, where is this coming from?' Or, 'Do you know who they're selling it to? Do you know who this person is?' And being such a small community, it's very easy for me to figure out, if I don't already know. Word travels fast, people brag, people are proud of what they do, so the word gets around easily," she said.

The word is that the dealers in her community are mostly local. The reason? The bigger dealers from New York and Massachusetts don't want to get caught driving their drugs into Vermont.

"It used to be a lot of dealers would come up. They would meet somebody, exchange hands. But now it's more going down to Connecticut, going to New York, so they're not coming across state lines, it's the people here going across state lines," she said.

It's information Vermont State Police Sgt. Karl Gardner says is critical to shutting down drug operations in Vermont "If it wasn't for their ability to point us in the right direction -- as to the bigger dealers -- it would be extremely difficult for law enforcement to figure out where these people are staying, how they're operating, and how they're getting their stuff up here via the train and bus," Gardner said.

But the role of a confidential informant can be dangerous. Vermont State Police shared video of an informant getting attacked while making a deal for investigators.

"I think it's very dangerous in some ways. There have been times that I have been threatened because people think that I have ratted on them," she said.

But that isn't going to stop her from helping police clean up her community. "I don't worry about my safety per se. I worry about my kids' safety. I don't want to have to worry about them going to the store and being caught in the middle of a drug scene, a drug deal gone bad," she said

Most of these informants agree to help police so they can reduce or work off charges. The benefit for law enforcement is that it allows them to go after higher-level dealers who are doing more damage across the state. Informants with criminal records often have a credibility issue, especially in court. To combat that, Sgt. Gardner says informants sometimes wear undercover cameras, capturing the video seen in the story.