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Vermont Drug Task Force Receives Federal Grant To Expand Personnel

Senator Patrick Leahy with law enforcement officials
WAMC/Pat Bradley
From left: Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont State Police Colonel Matthew Birmingham, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, U.S. Attorney Eric Miller, Vermont State Police Major Glenn Hall

Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy was surrounded by law enforcement and health officials in Williston on Monday as he announced that a federal grant will allow the Vermont Drug Task Force to expand.
The $1.4 million federal grant from the Department of Justice’s Anti-Heroin Task Force program will go to Vermont’s interagency partnership of state troopers, local, county and federal law enforcement officers that investigates illegal drug trafficking.  U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, says the importance of the funding cannot be overstated.   “We’re going to expand the Vermont Drug Task Force. We’re going to add six new positions including five detectives whose sole mission will be to combat heroin trafficking in our state.  That’ll bring the number of task force investigators from nineteen to twenty four. It's a $1.4 million federal grant.  You cannot overstate the need for this. The increase in heroin investigations so far this year up seventy percent from last year. Don't think this is in just one area of the state. It's all over the state. Rich or poor, urban or rural. It is there.”

Vermont State Police Criminal Division Commander Major Glenn Hall commands the Vermont Drug Task Force.  The federal money allows him to add five new detectives and an analyst whose sole focus will be drug investigations across the state.   “The single biggest asset for us is actual investigators. These investigators this is all they do and that's the way it has to be. We can't just take uniformed troopers off the road and put them doing this drug work. It’s just not feasible. And this grant allows us to hire five troopers and having them do this.”

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen noted that while there has been some progress made to forestall prescription drug addictions, there has been nearly a doubling in heroin and fentanyl overdoses this year.   “As much as I can work on the prescription opioid piece, we also have to stop the supply of heroin and fentanyl. And one of the things that we've noted lately is a new and even more deadly form of fentanyl which is called car-fentanyl. Traditionally heroin used to be the drug of choice.  Fentanyl is now making its way into our supply which is fifty times more potent than heroin. Now we throw in car-fentanyl which is one hundred times more potent than fentanyl.”

Major Glenn Hall says the changing nature of illicit drugs adds to the task force challenges.   “Many of these overdoses occur because the actual user doesn't know what they're using and doesn't know how powerful the drug they have in front of them is. We have fentanyl that's sold as heroin and oftentimes it's one hundred percent fentanyl. Sometimes it's mixed with heroin. But as a customer if you don't know how powerful that drug is you may end up in an overdose situation. These obviously aren’t regulated so it's a difficult thing to monitor and then to investigate.”

Senator Leahy held field hearings across Vermont. He says he’s determined to get the state funds to help stem the drug abuse crisis.    “In my years in the Senate and the years I had before as a prosecutor I've never seen anything like this. I've never had anything that’s torn at me as much as this does.  And you go to those hearings, when a parent says can I speak with you privately? And I’ve left some of those meetings with tears coming down my face.”

He added a few minutes later.   “I don’t do this out of politics really.  I, I have nightmares from some of the stories I heard.  And I find myself looking every day at the obituaries in case their child’s there. So I will get the money. I will get the money.”

The Anti-Heroin Task Force grants totaling $5.8 million were also awarded to Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

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