Rutland, Vt., is fed up with heroin. Tom VanEps and his neighbors used to just watch, disgusted, as dealers worked Baxter Street, their buyers sometimes littering the ground with used syringes. Now, they confront the dealers and the junkies. "We'll make them throw their crap right down that storm drain right there, because that hurts them more than anything," he says. Authorities credit a variety of police actions, drug treatment programs, social services, new businesses and jobs, and—perhaps most of all—community determination with reducing crime and restoring a sense of hope to a place that was labeled "heroin city" in spring 2013. Crimes including burglaries, vehicle theft, and noise complaints are way down, in some cases as much as half, since 2012. A drug treatment center that opened in 2013 is helping more than 400 patients.
Problems began when some of Rutland's residents moved into the country after its quarries began closing. Single-family homes were divided into apartment houses, many owned by absentee landlords, fertile ground for drug dealers. Locals say Rutland, population 16,500, hit bottom in 2012, when a 17-year-old star athlete was hit and killed by a driver who'd been huffing chemicals to get high. That same year, the city created Project Vision, an organization that brings together a variety of groups and individuals so each can do its part in fighting the drug problem. Now, police often bring social workers along on calls, blighted properties are being demolished or redeveloped, and there is expanded access to drug treatment. "I really think people are starting to understand that this is a crisis, a health crisis, and it needs to be treated as such," says a former addict.