Thursday December 12, 2013
Tuesday, Dec. 3, more than 70 South Burlington residents hunkered down to address some hard-hitting truths. The community forum, dubbed “Prevalence and Root Causes of Crime in our Community and What We Can Do About It” called upon participants to face the reality of an up-tick in local crime.
What is the root cause of increased crime and drug addiction? “We don’t want to ring an alarm bell that it’s an unsafe community to live in. That’s not true at all. It’s a very safe community to live, work in, and recreate in — if we take basic precautions, and if we help look after one another,” explained South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple, one of the four panelists in the information-gathering and brain-storming workshop and discussion session at South Burlington High School.
Joining Whipple on the panel were three other experts on the topic: US Attorney Tristan Coffin, Bob Bick, Director of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services at the HowardCenter, and Dr. William (Bill) Roberts, Pain Management/Narcotic Abuse Rehab in St. Albans.
Whipple recognized two individuals who identified the need for this discussion: Councilors Pat Nowak and Helen Riehle. Rising concerns about safety, primary care, and the benefits of community collaboration were a few key issues that helped initiate the discussion. Riehle reminded the audience that there were several moving parts of the topic that need to be addressed.
Superintendent of Schools David Young and School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald spoke of their support for the safety and well being of the students in the district.
US Attorney Tristan Coffin spoke to South Burlington residents with perspective to drug addiction in the state. Coffin, who established a drug task force for Vermont, gave a brief timeline of the influx in heroine and opiate abuse in the state and provided an approach to tackling the matter.
“Our role in this is a law enforcement role--to reduce the supply side by prosecuting individuals and creating a real deterrence to raise the cost of human business,” Coffin said. However, this measure is a back-end solution, he added, noting that preventative efforts made by the entire community are what will help drive down the demand. Whipple agreed, stating that a significant amount of the crime in South Burlington is driven by individuals with a substance abuse problem.
“We--the law enforcement--are not going to stop the opiate epidemic,” he said. “We can arrest an opiate addict. That’s not going to stop that person from being an opiate addict.”
Stereotyping these individuals is easy, Bick says, but it’s far from a solution. Some Howard Center methadone patients became addicted after using a legitimate prescription medication.
“Some percentage of individuals have a genetic predisposition to react when they take an opiate,” Bick said.
Dr. Roberts, offering a preventative strategy which would start at home, instructed those in the room to purchase a lockbox, fill it with all the medications in the house, and review the results.
“If all of us individually took a little more personal responsibility [we’d recognize] that this is not a problem with other people’s children--this is a problem with everyone’s children,” he said.
A South Burlington resident described her experience with a home break-in in late November.
“We were very lucky that everything worked right,” she said. After she confirmed there was an intruder in the home, her husband managed to hold him down until SBPD promptly arrived on scene.
“When I read that article, my heart went out to you,” said resident Tim Barritt. “We’re all here with you after the fact by reading about it.”
Lisa Bedinger, Community Justice Center coordinator, facilitated the second half of the Forum. After laying out the expectations, the community discussions were off to a determined start, with each table assisted by a Community Justice Center member. Two rounds of discussion ensued: one to develop questions to pose to the panel, and the second to consider solutions to the problem.
To what degree is marijuana a gateway drug? How do we get rid of drugs when we don’t need them anymore? What can we do as individuals? These were just a few of the questions fielded by the panel.
The issue of marijuana being a potential gateway drug is still being widely researched, Dr. Roberts said. There are cognitive concerns that could come into play for youth whose minds are still developing, he added. Bick said that they are uncertain about “which individuals, when they consume any psychoactive substance, are going to be negatively impacted.”
A proliference of prescription medication is another concern. As far as proper methods to dispose opiate prescription medications, the FDA recently says that they can be flushed when they’re no longer needed, Dr. Roberts said. The DEA also sponsors Drug Take Back days at least twice a year, Whipple said.
With all the information gathered from panel members and community discussion, the tables offered a wide range of solutions about how to move forward. Instilling good values and providing drug education in schools and in homes in an open and honest discussion was a common preventative solution. “The Hungry Heart” a documentary on substance abuse, is coming to South Burlington High School February 10.
Physician responsibility should also be considered, as well as engaging in community activities such as Neighborhood Watch and Front Porch Forum and having existing community clubs and organizations tune into the conversation.
The discussion continues. The second community forum, is on Thursday, Dec. 12 from 7-9 p.m. in SBHS Cafeteria 2.
Statistics comparing last year to this year in SB:*
• Burglaries in South Burlington are up 32 percent. Last year: 59 reports from homeowners; this year: 78 reports.
• Shoplifting in South Burlington is up 74 percent. 50 cases last year; this year: 87.
Howard Center Statistics:**
• Average age of client seeking treatment: 36 years old
•Age range of clients: 18-66 years
• Of clients coming in at 66 years, when asked what age they started, ages ranged from eight to 46 years, averaging 19 years of age when abuse began.
• Individuals seeking opiate treatment in the last 10 years is up 400 percent.**
• The economy of heroin trade from the Middlebury area northward is 1.2 million dollars per week*
SBHS Youth Health Risk Behavior Survey:**
South Burlington results almost mirror the state results
• 13 percent admit to driving a car after smoking marijuana, almost double the number who admit to driving a car after drinking.
• One out of four students admit to riding in a car with someone who’s smoked marijuana or consumed alcohol.
• 54 percent have had alcohol, half of them admit to binge drinking, over 5 in a day.
Fletcher Allen Healthcare July-Oct. 2013:**
• 471 drug-related admissions
• 601 alcohol-related
• 67 for drug withdrawal • 54 for opiate dependence
• 26 for heroine poisoning
• 85 for unspecified abuse
*Reported by Chief of Police, Trevor Whipple
**Reported by Bob Bick
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent