Drug treatment program unveiled in Rutland, may catch on here

BENNINGTON -- The local state's attorney said she hopes to have a rapid drug addiction intervention program like one Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Monday in Rutland up and running in Bennington County this spring.

Shumlin told the Banner that the program seeks to separate the "people we should be disappointed in," from the people "we should be scared of."

The Associated Press reported that in Rutland, offenders with multiple past misdemeanors on their record may be placed into a 90-day drug treatment program if they are faced with a new charge, such as disorderly conduct, retail theft, unlawful trespass and possession of certain illegal drugs. Violent offenders would be ineligible, but those who get into the program and complete it could avoid prosecution.

This program is similar to the drug courts which began in Chittenden County, then were adopted in Addison and Franklin counties, said Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage in an interview with the Banner.

"I know all of what it would take from my perspective," said Marthage, "but I would need to coordinate the service part of it."

Who will provided the screening service for eligible offenders would first have to be determined, then how to pay those people. Marthage said other counties have been able to secure grant funding.

The logistics could be worked out in two days worth of meetings, she said.

Shumlin made opiate addiction the core topic of his State of the State address; meanwhile, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced a number of bills this session seeking to tackle the problems surrounding addiction. The two stopped by the Banner briefly on Monday to discuss addiction issues, among others.

"Most people recognize that you're not going to arrest your way out of this problem," said Sears on Monday, however some of the bills being introduced are to deter drug-related crime by increasing maximum jail sentences.

Sears said one bill adds a five-year enhancement on burglaries committed in homes, or with deadly weapons. In cases where a person burglarizes a home and threatens the owner with a weapon, they could face up to 40 years in prison.

"We need to send the message that Vermont is not open for business," Shumlin said. "When you talk to folks who are dealing with prosecuting these dealers, they will tell you that they consistently hear from the dealers in the cases where they come in from out of state, that they see Vermont as easy."

Not only in terms of criminal penalties, but drug money, too.

"They can buy it for $5 or $6 bucks a bag two hours south, Philadelphia and New York both, and they can sell it for $20 to $30 bucks a bag up here, and they see Vermont as an easy place to do business," Shumlin said.

Sears said the legislature is also considering legislation targeting those importing drugs into Vermont, but a draft of that bill has yet to be finalized.

It costs less to provide drug treatment than to keep a person incarcerated, and so treatment should be available when appropriate, said Shumlin. Opiate addiction is a lifelong struggle for those who have it, and for many the day they are arrested for a drug crime is the day a brief window for them opens when they are most responsive to getting help. He said the proper systems need to be in place for them when that happens.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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