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Special Focus

About this section

BRATTLEBORO—This Special Focus section was reported and written by MacLean Gander, with editing, design, and additional reporting by Jeff Potter.

Gander volunteers his time as an investigative reporter for The Commons and teaches journalism at Landmark College. Three of his students proved instrumental in the creation of this project: recent graduate Adam Sherman, who did in-depth research on the fentanyl angle; student Jack Belinski, who put in 90 hours providing research “instrumental to the story [that] will provide a model for future interns,” Gander says; and student Lucas Sillars, who provided reporting that Gander says “was central to every aspect of the story.”

The Commons is grateful to have worked with Landmark College and its students to make this complex and heartbreaking story a meaningful learning opportunity for the next generation of reporters.

By way of transparency, we note that in addition to their work in the newsroom, both Gander and Sillars serve as members of the board of directors of Vermont Independent Media, the nonprofit organization that publishes this newspaper.

This project relied deeply on the stories and candor of dozens of people in the region, many of whom spoke on background because of any number of concerns, ranging from fears of self-incrimination to fears of violence. Their candor and honest observations were essential and imbue this story with heartache.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #630 (Wednesday, September 15, 2021). This story appeared on page C3.

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Special Focus

Amid disruption from Covid, the opioid epidemic still rages on: Deaths by overdose have exceeded the casualties of COVID-19. With the problems and solutions of opioid use even more complicated by the pandemic, a new police chief in Brattleboro, and heightened awareness to shift focus to substance use as a medical condition, can we find a balance between public health and law enforcement? • Read story

• Can Vermont look for new approaches?: Other countries, like Switzerland and Portugal, have successfully moved away from punitive measures to attack opioid demand. Here, the public approach to the opioid epidemic is slowly homing in on a model that includes treatment, with some promising indicators of success. But one thing is still in the way: stigma. • Read sidebar

• ‘A very, very, very hard time — not just in Brattleboro, but everywhere in the world, of course’: For Brattleboro’s new police chief, Norma Hardy, addressing the crime of a drug epidemic will start with building trust with a community • Read interview

• ‘My daughter was really smart’: A mother describes a child’s descent into substance use and ultimate death from an overdose. • Read sidebar

• ‘You killed Joe. Enough!’: Two residents of Great River Terrace tell their story • Read sidebar

• ‘My daughter’s urn is here on the table’: One victim of the opioid epidemic saw all of it and hated drugs, her mother said — and then she ended up using them anyway • Read sidebar

• Statistics don’t tell the story: ‘I came away from doing this project with deep admiration for those who work on the front lines, and deep empathy for those who have suffered the losses of this epidemic. I also came away with a deeper sense of how opioid addiction ravages a community, making people feel unsafe and angry and creating a general sense of disorder and grief.’ • Read Reporter’s Notebook

• About this section: Read credits

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