It's not often that Rutland, Vermont and the Bronx, New York are linked in a news story.
But Vermont's now well-publicized heroin problem has its roots in a drug cartel based in the Bronx. A recent Drug Enforcement Administration bust seized 70 kilos of heroin with a street value estimated at $50 million. This bust broke up a major warehouse that shipped heroin north up Interstate 87 and 90 into New England.
“The person in the bust was the kingpin in the East Coast area from the Sinaloa cartel,” says reporter Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli, who reported a two-part series on the heroin pipeline into Vermont in the Rutland Herald.
To be successful in Vermont, Phalen Tomaselli says that New York City drug dealers make friends with heroin addicts.
“That starts this whole circle, and the heroin addicts in Vermont become the human infrastructure of this heroin business,” she says, adding that the Vermont connections help the dealers sell their product, give them a place to stay when they come to the state and drive them around.
The personal nature of the network makes it harder for police to track drug dealers’ movement.
“One’s vision of a drug dealer might be someone standing on a street corner, but it rarely happens that way anymore,” she says. “Often police have to have investigations over year or more before able to break up circles of dealing and using.”
For helping to establish these trafficking networks and the client base, the addicts are paid in heroin.
It’s a lucrative market here in Vermont. A single dose of heroin goes for $3 or $4 in New York City, but can sell for closer to $30 or $40 here in the state.
Often, as the heroin moves down the supply chain, it’s cut with sugar or baking soda, and sometimes the narcotic pain reliever fentanyl, which has been associated with deaths of addicts.
Stopping heroin trafficking and use is the main drug enforcement priority in Vermont, says Phalen Tomaselli.
“But with such an influx, the police are working all the time to even keep pace with amount of heroin and the number of users in the state.”
See how drug use is affecting Vermonters and their families VPR's Traces Project.