If you want more proof of what a scourge on our communities heroin has become, just look to Bellows Falls, where a recent investigation led to the arrest of 10 men and women from the area. All of the people have been cited with various drug crimes, mostly sale and possession of heroin, and they all range between the ages of 22 and 51.
It should come as no surprise to the readers of our newspaper that drug busts are a regular occurrence in Windham County. The fact that Interstate 91 runs the county's entire length means the highway is an easy conduit for people bringing cocaine and heroin to our towns. But it's not just outsiders who are using the road to traffic in the deadly substances. As attested to by the recent busts in Bellows Falls, locals have also been driving south to bring drugs back for their own consumption or to sell.
As Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake noted about the arrests: "This is not going to cure our problem. This is a drop in the bucket. This is just part of doing police work."
The bust in Bellows Falls was the result of lots of hard work by a number of different police officers from a number of different agencies. But the truth is, our law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed by the influx of drugs into our communities. If they bust 10 people, it's a good bet there are dozens more operating below the radar.
We can be knee-jerk reactionary and say all drug users are scum and deserve to be locked up, but it's not that simple. These are our friends, neighbors and loved ones and locking them up and throwing away the key doesn't solve the problem, it just pushes it further down the road to be dealt with later.
The reasons why people use drugs are as varied as the people who use them.
Some people are simply bored while others take drugs to cope with difficult problems or situations. Others fall under the sway of peer pressure or while some are just "experimenting."
Many people who use drugs live in communities, which suffer from high unemployment, low-quality housing and where local services and support are fractured and poorly resourced.
People with no hope, poor job prospects, limited education and sketchy family relations often fall victim to drug abuse. It's also true that people with mental health issues are extremely susceptible to the false allure of relief that drugs promise.
But we also know drug abuse isn't restricted to one demographic or just poor or hopeless people. Drugs have ruined the lives of many successful people, pillars of the community and hard-working men and women.
And we're not just talking about the illegal drugs, but also alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications.
While there are a few people who can dabble in drugs without consequences, most people who use substances out of boredom, to self-medicate or to keep up with their friends find themselves on a road strewn with hazards and the debris of broken lives.
Those who are able to resist drug abuse and the resultant destruction have strong families who can talk about anything. Or they have friends, co-workers, teachers or social service providers who have a strong commitment to their well being.
These "resilience factors" can prevent someone from going down a path that can lead to physical debilitation, mental fragmentation, familial disintegration, jail, or even worse.
If you or someone you know has a problem with drugs, there are a number of local resources where you can turn for help. They include Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, the Brattleboro Retreat and Turning Point.
We'll never be able to stem the flow of drugs up the highway, unless we're willing to submit to a total police state in which every car is searched before it crosses the state border, so we need to find other ways to deal with the problem. Some believe legalization and regulation is the answer, but in all reality, how likely is that to happen?
If we are to get really serious about drug abuse in our communities, we need to address the root causes -- poverty, the lack of good jobs, peer pressure, mental health and, yes, boredom. We also need drug courts that take punishment (temporarily and with conditions) out of the equation and substitute it with caring and real rehabilitation.
And the community needs to find ways to support -- in a way that doesn't stigmatize them -- those who have fallen victim to drugs. Instead of pushing them out of the community, we need to find ways to pull them back in and give them the tools for recovery.