Friday May 3, 2013

Bellows Falls has a drug problem.

There, we said it -- a statement of fact using simple terms and no inflammatory language. Here’s another fact: Police Chief Ron Lake said his department arrested 38 individuals for drug crimes in 2012. As of Tuesday afternoon, less than half way through 2013, the BFPD had made 29 drug arrests.

"Based on current trends in drug crimes and what we’re seeing, we’re expecting to close out the calendar year with a 200 percent increase in drug crimes in the village of Bellows Falls," Lake said during a recent joint meeting of the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees and the Rockingham Selectboard.

He also noted that the village’s problem with drugs is not unique and is no worse than many other places. Indeed, news outlets from across the state have been reporting about increased drug use -- whether it’s heroin, synthetic marijuana or prescription pills -- for the last two years. This includes Burlington, Barre, Rutland, Brattleboro and Bellows Falls.

What is unique about Bellows Falls, however, is that some officials seem overly concerned with how this affects the village’s image rather than examining the root causes of the problem itself.

Lake had spoken about drug use in Bellows Falls at a Teen Brain Development event at the Rockingham Free Public Library last month, during which he described the dangers of synthetic marijuana and said heroin use in the village is "at epidemic proportions.


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At the following Board of Trustees meeting, one trustee expressed displeasure at how negative the comments were, calling them inflammatory and saying they make Bellows Falls appear worse than it is.

The issue was brought up again at this week’s joint meeting, where some officials directed their blame at the media for portraying Bellows Falls in such a negative light. That’s not the first time the Reformer has been accused of sensationalizing the bad news coming out of Bellows Falls, or any other town, and giving others a poor impression of the community.

It’s our job to report the news, good or bad, and though we do try to write stories in such a way that gets the reader’s attention and draws them into the article, we don’t go out of our way to sensationalize any particular issue. We didn’t choose the phrase "epidemic proportions"; we simply reported it. And point in fact, Lake was not the first to use that terminology in reference to a drug problem. The Burlington Free Press quoted State Health Commissioner Harry Chen two years ago saying that prescription drug abuse in Vermont is "a problem of epidemic proportions."

If some people consider it inflammatory, so be it; at least it draws attention to a growing problem, one that will continue to get worse if we ignore it.

And for the record, we don’t just report on the bad news. There are a lot of good things happening in Bellows Falls. Here is just a sampling of some of other others stories we’ve written about the village in the past month alone: The new Shona Grill restaurant; Bellows Falls students being recognized by the State Treasurer’s office for contributions to the Reading is an Investment program; revitalization plans for The Island; high school and middle school honor rolls; activities at the senior center; and BF resident Betty Haggerty being named 2013 Vermont Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc.

If there are more positive stories about Bellows Falls please let us know about them. Contrary to popular belief, we do like reporting about the good things that are happening in our communities.

In the meantime, we will continue reporting about the growing drug problem throughout Windham County and the entire state, including efforts to combat it. We would like to hear more about how the BFPD is working closely with the Vermont State Police and the Vermont Drug Task Force, as Lake said, and how the town is approaching the drug problem "as pro-actively as absolutely possible."

And if the village trustees come up with any ordinances that would help curtail what is having a negative impact on the community, we’d love to hear about that as well.