The South Burlington Police Department (SBPD) hosts a community forum on heroin and addiction Thursday, April 20, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at South Burlington High School, 550 Dorset Street. While many in the community plan to attend the forum, others may think the topic is not pertinent to their lives. SBPD Officer Jeff Favreau says the presentation is intended for all citizens adding, “In South Burlington, heroin is a main root cause of the vast majority of crimes committed and many people are shocked to learn this.”
He shares that the SBPD’s calls for service have increased steadily from 2013 to 2016, with calls classified as drug-related having increased over 36 percent. In addition, last year was the busiest year in the “department’s history for calls for service as well as drug-classified calls.” Beyond the economic costs and the toll on city services, there is also the personal and emotional consequences of drug abuse, often leading to loss of life. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, death from heroin use was nationally six times higher in 2015 than in 2002.
Officer Favreau is well versed on this topic. His presentation initially started as a DARE lesson for seventh graders at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School. He says, “I have always tried to make the last lesson as topical as possible and for the last few years this topic has been on opiates, specifically heroin.” DARE is a nationally known substance abuse prevention education program, where students pledge not to use drugs and are informed, in an interactive in-school curriculum delivered by local police officers, about the dangers of recreational drug use. Officer Favreau says, due to the frequency that the SBPD deals with heroin and its effects, “I decided I would take my lesson to the community.”
The forum is a comprehensive look at heroin and opiate abuse. According to a data brief released this month from the Vermont Department of Health, “Almost 80 percent of new heroin users in a given year previously misused prescription pain relievers.” It continues, “The general pattern for Vermont mirrors a national trend.” Officer Favreau explains that there has been a steady increase in the use of heroin since 2010, when OxyContin, the most commonly abused opiate pain killer, was reformulated. As a way to make the drug less attractive to illicit users, the new pills were difficult to crush and dissolved more slowly. The unintended result is that users who were still addicted could no longer abuse prescription medications as easily or cheaply, leaving heroin as their only option. Favreau says, “The reason why I chose to name it a Community Forum on Heroin instead of opiates is because heroin specifically is having the largest impact on South Burlington compared to other opiates like OxyContin, Fentanyl, and others.” Although, he notes the misuse and abuse of opiates will be addressed at the forum as well.
“People often don’t realize how easily their friends, family members or kids can so quickly become addicted. It starts with pills and before long, when the pills are no longer an option, the only alternative is heroin. The addiction is so powerful that everything else falls by the wayside. Friends, family, and kids no longer become the priority, their only priority is getting more heroin,” says Officer Favreau. He adds, “The lives of those addicted only become more and more desperate with the almost inevitable destruction of their lives, arrests and/or death resulting.”
The first half of the April 20 forum will be a basic lesson on heroin and the effects of addiction in the community. This includes where heroin comes from and its different forms. Specific to the city, the presentation will talk about drug-related calls, for example how heroin is connected to the increase of service calls SBPD receives from the University Mall. “The overall goal of the first half was to give someone with little, no or patchy knowledge on heroin a basic understanding of what it does to the body and the community,” explains Officer Favreau.
The second half of the forum features an expert panel of professionals who are deeply involved in the heroin epidemic, especially in regards to how it affects the community. Favreau says, “It will give community members a chance to ask questions that weren’t asked and answered during the presentation, but also gives them the perspectives of not just law enforcement, but professionals from the medical and treatment fields.”
Panel members include Dr. Stephen Leffler from the UVM Medical Center, Francis “Chip” Chamberlain from Howard Mental Health. South Burlington School Superintendent David Young, South Burlington Fire Department Senior Fire Fighter/ Paramedic Brad Dattilio, and officers from SBPD.
“Hopefully someone with little or no understanding of the heroin epidemic in South Burlington will walk away from the forum with a better grasp on it,” says Officer Favreau, adding, “and will be able to recognize its effects on family, friends, and the community.”