Bennington officials react to NYT heroin article
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF Writer | March 15,2014
BENNINGTON — Community leaders came together Friday to formulate a response to a New York Times article about heroin use, which some said painted Bennington in an unbalanced and negative light.
Select Board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk Jr. said it was important to make a formal response. But he said the community should “not run away from the fact that we recognize that we do have an issue here that we’ve got to solve, but at the same time, we know that and we’re taking steps to solve that problem.”
The article was published March 5 and carried the headline: “Heroin Scourge Overtakes A ‘Quaint’ Vermont Town.”
Krawczyk said of the article: “It painted the town of Bennington in a very bad light ... To say that we have turned our back on an issue here, which is addiction to drugs of any type, is not true.”
Sue Maguire, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School, said her biggest concern was a quote attributed to Trooper Wayne Godfrey of the Vermont State Police alluding to heroin use by high school students.
“Everyone is doing it,” Godfrey said in the Times article. “It’s in the high school. The kids are doing it right in school. You find baggies in the hallway.”
MAU was not named, but Maguire said it wasn’t true.
“Everyone isn’t using heroin,” she said. “We’ve never found a baggie of heroin or any drug sitting in the hallway and kids obviously aren’t shooting up and using drugs in the hallways.”
Maguire added, “For me, that particular quote sensationalized a really serious problem that we face like every other community, but the sensationalism was at the expense of our kids and our school.”
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette supported Maguire. He said the high school was in his department’s jurisdiction and he was not aware of any investigation that found heroin in the school halls or heroin use in the building.
However, he also said he knew Godfrey and said he was a good police officer. He said he hoped the community could move past the comment and look at drug abuse in the community.
Doucette said local law enforcement has been doing its part, sharing resources and working with community members who have begun to bring information to police because they’re tired of seeing drugs in their town.
“We have worked very hard with the Sheriff’s Department, the Vermont State Police, the New York State Police, Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Department and the Bennington County state’s attorney’s office to locate, put a case together, apprehend and prosecute people that are dealing drugs in our community,” he said. “And I think that we’ve done very well at that.”
Doucette also talked about how police would like to do more to help than simply making arrests.
“Some of these people need help and in order to help them, there needs to be follow-through with these people that are arrested,” he said. “There needs to be a way that we can treat the people that we don’t arrest that realize they need help. You don’t have to be arrested to get help.”
Judith Fellowes-Miller, a local substance abuse prevention consultant for the state Department of Health, said much of her work involves trying to sift through perception and reality. She pointed out that the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey of MAU students, which is conducted every two years, found only 1 percent of the students said they’d tried heroin.
“This last article (in the New York Times) has reminded me, when I lived in Alaska, people would fly into Alaska and they would stay a week and then they would go away and they would write a book,” Fellowes-Miller said. “We all thought that was very humorous because the book was nothing like living in Alaska was like.”
While no one at the meeting on Friday said the article was entirely inaccurate or that drug addiction was not a problem in Bennington, there were other criticisms. Ralph Provenza, director of United Counseling Service in Bennington, said the article may have “overstated and oversimplified the problem.”
Town Manager Stuart Hurd, who has been directed by the Select Board to draft a response, said some of the quotes that were used were devastating, but he called the article “galvanizing” in bringing people together to look at the local drug problems.
“Our response to the Times is going to attempt to outline the things that we are all doing here to deal with the problem,” Hurd said. “I don’t think anyone in the community is running away from the problem or hiding their head in the sand. We’re not ignorant to what’s happening in this community and it’s happening everywhere.”