Photo by Tom Ganinam, Associated Press
RANDOLPH, Vermont – Batches of Fentanyl-laced heroin are responsible for at least 2 of 3 recent overdoses near the small town of Randolph, one of them being fatal. State Police are on high alert regarding the situation, and held a town hall meeting to inform the public just last week. Of the three overdoses, one person in Randolph died while two others in nearby Cheslea and Bethel survived.
Vermont State Police Sgt. John Helfant says the man who died was 30 years old and had taken heroin laced with Fentanyl. Another 19 year old who was using Fentanyl-laced heroin in nearby Bethel survived after 9 doses of Naloxone were administered (5 in the ambulance, and 4 from troopers on the scene). Naloxone is a known antidote for heroin overdoses, and each State Trooper is required to carry one dose because of the epidemic. A Chelsea man in his 50s also survived, but was not using Fentanyl.
All data is from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“Pills have gotten more expensive,” says Vermont State Police Sgt. John Helfant. “It’s cheaper to buy heroin.”
A problem we have seen in nearly every state. What usually starts out as an addiction to prescription painkillers quickly turns to heroin use when the person addicted recognizes how much they can save by switching. When someone is paying 35 a day for a pain killer on the street and can pay $5-$10 a bag for more potent heroin, it’s an obvious bargain.
Figure 2 shows the manner of death for all of the drug-related fatalities in any given year between 2004 and 2013. Note that there was one drug-related homicide in 2010 (not shown in Figure 2).
While alcohol is still the drug of choice in the Green Mountain State, law enforcement has now seen the need for a 3-prong attack on heroin.
“Education, enforcement and treatment,” says Sgt. Helfant. “Since we started these meetings, we’ve had a lot more non-using citizens call us with information. We’ve actually seen an uptick in actual users because people are more willing to talk to us and let us know what’s going on.”
The Vermont State Police is reaching out to the community and asking them to talk, and let them know who’s selling.
Vermont does have needle exchange programs throughout the state, but Sgt. Helfant says unless heroin is found in a needle, no one is going to arrest them for it.
“The key is to get people off of opiates,” says Sgt. Helfant. “It leads to other problems. For people who are using 10 bags of heroin a day, that adds up to about $150 a day. I can’t afford $150 a day on anything, can you? So it leads to criminal activity like prostitution and burglary because people don’t have the money to support their habit.”
Heroin isn’t the only epidemic law enforcement officers are fighting, but it certainly is increasingly becoming the state’s priority. Springfield, Vermont has become the hub for bath salts in the state. But in 2010 the state was averaging 1-5 heroin overdoses a year and now, just 5 years later, the number is in the 30s. This might not seem like a lot, but in a state with only 600,000 residents, it’s a significant percentage of the population.
Pure fentanyl has been seized in several investigations and all types of packaging:
Unmarked red and white glassine bags
Folded dollar bill
Red devil with image of baby face in blue ink
“The King” with gorilla head
Red superman image
Some of “the King” seized by Sgt. John Helfant
“There has also been concern over a batch of heroin making its way through the New England area marked ‘Ronald Reagan’,” Vermont State Police Captain JP Sinclair tells the State Health Department. “The presence of fentanyl in Vermont is gradually becoming more common, along with the dangers associated with its use.”
The Vermont Department of Health says fentanyl is an opioid drug that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, and much deadlier. A small amount of pure fentanyl (just a few grains) can cause the user to stop breathing and kill them. Sgt. Helfant seized some of the Ronald Reagan batch in early April, but it was just a few packets.
“It is more prevalent in Connecticut,” says Sgt. Helfant. “The packets involved in the overdose death in Randolph were the King with an image of a Gorilla. Green and white packets.”
The Health Department has been collecting data on overdoses and managing a Naloxone pilot program to prevent overdose deaths. They say that starting in 2013, heroin overdose deaths have risen sharply.
Intravenous heroin use is causing what the CDC calls the worst HIV/Hepatitis C outbreak since the 1980s in both Massachusetts and Indiana, where the small town of Austin with a population of 4000 has had nearly 200 new cases of HIV. Minnesota’s DHS Commissioner is proposing more regulation for doctors who overprescribe prescription painkillers. 65% of the calls that come into our call center are from people addicted to heroin. It is quickly becoming the most sinister killer in the United States. If you or someone you love is battling this disease, call us 24/7 at 1.888.614.2251.
Sgt. John Heflin (Photo Courtesy WCAX)
Sgt. John Heflin started with the Vermont State Police at the age of 21 in 1990. His first station was Derby, near the Canadian Border, until 1997. He worked in both the Caanan and Barton Outposts while stationed at Derby. When he was promoted to Sergeant, he was transferred to the Royalton Station. He has been Sgt. Patrol Commander since 1997, and is currently the Drug Enforcement Coordinator at the Royalton Station.
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