Reducing Opioid Addiction through a Broad Community Coalition
May 25, 2016
An estimated 1.9 million people in the United States have a pain reliever use disorder. Drug overdose, including misuse of pharmaceuticals, is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.
The plague of opioid addiction was affecting our city of Rutland, VT. As the third largest city in Vermont, Rutland is located 20 miles east of New York and 61 miles north of Massachusetts, on the receiving end of a major New York City drug pipeline.
In January, 2012, Col. James Baker (retired Director, Vermont State Police) became Rutland’s Police Chief and began meeting with various decision makers to discuss the idea of a community intervention team with a focus on reducing opiate addiction and improving mental health responses, offender compliance and quality of life in our neighborhoods. Community support grew for the idea, and the result was a grant proposal entitled Project VISION. Although the grant was not funded, our community moved forward with the project’s implementation by strategically engaging local resources and stakeholders.
The goal of Project VISION is to address the drug-related challenges facing the community and is based on the premise that making more arrests will not solve the problem of opioid addiction. The project addresses the underlying issues of substance abuse and its related criminal activity by involving the broader community. Over 300 organizations are involved with the project including social and health service agencies and organizations, schools, colleges, business organizations, the City of Rutland, local, county, state and federal probation, parole and law enforcement agencies, faith-based groups, volunteers and neighbors.
A VISION Center was established at Rutland police headquarters and houses eight embedded partners including a domestic violence advocate, a mental health crisis clinician and alcohol counselor, staff from the Deputy State’s Attorneys’ office, social workers, probation and parole and a retired professor focused on unifying the community. This cross-community effort is improving our collaborative response and problem-solving efforts.
Several law enforcement tactics have been implemented through the VISION Center including pulling levers(link is external), crime mapping(link is external), data-driven decision-making and a Community Response Team (CRT). The CRT identifies drug traffickers and violent offenders, partnering with probation and parole in a focused deterrence approach attending to offender compliance issues.
Crime mapping and data-driven decision-making helped change the Rutland police culture and educate the public about why, how and where police resources are used. Thirty individuals — including police supervisors and community partners — attend biweekly meetings. The group reviews crime maps, heat maps, etc. and discusses a proactive strategic approach to addressing the information.
This collaborative effort is producing measurable results for the Rutland community. From 2013-2015(link is external), crimes occurring in the City of Rutland related to drug seeking activities decreased; burglaries declined by 60 percent; robberies, shoplifting and thefts decreased 53 percent, 36 percent and 20 percent respectively.
These efforts continue to evolve. For 2016, the project’s focus is on reducing aggravated assaults linked to domestic violence. By working together with a broad cross-spectrum of organizations, Rutland is experiencing both a reduction in crime and an increase in community collaboration.
For more information about Project VISION visit http://projectvisionrutland.com/(link is external).
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Available at http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR…(link is external)
 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System, Mortality File. (2015). Number and Age-Adjusted Rates of Drug-poisoning Deaths Involving Opioid Analgesics and Heroin: United States, 2000–2014. Atlanta, GA: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Available athttp://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/AADR_drug_poisoning_involving…(link is external)
 James Baker, IACP, Director of Advocacy.