B y Dan King

Illicit sale and use of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat heroin addiction, is a growing concern for law enforcement agencies throughout the region.

Washington County Undersheriff John Winchell described Suboxone as “the methadone of today.”

“We have a troubling development of people obtaining a Suboxone prescription and selling it for a significant markup,” said Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan. “They’re using it to fund heroin and cocaine. Some of these guys, over the course of a year, are moving a lot of product.”

Last week police arrested 11 “mid to high level” drug dealers in Washington County, many of whom were involved in selling Suboxone, and while Jordan said the arrests dealt a significant blow to the black market that has emerged for the drug, officials are still concerned.

“We continue to look at the scourge of heroin and opiates,” Jordan said. “If you don’t destroy the supply, things like treatment can’t help. We’d love to say (the arrests) will stop it, but it will certainly slow it down.”

Jordan said what makes Suboxone difficult to combat is both the ease of obtaining the drug and the fact that most usage is done legally.

“People are getting Suboxone through a prescription and selling it,” he said. “It’s very similar to issues we’ve had with oxycodone or Percocet. Ninety-five percent of the use is appropriate, it’s the five percent that we need to stop.”

Suboxone, according to law enforcement officials, creates an opiate-type high, because it is used as a treatment for heroin addiction. Washington County and surrounding areas of Vermont and upstate New York have been hit hard by opiates including heroin and the growing black market of Suboxone, officials said.

On several occasions in the past, Sheriff Jeff Murphy has referred to Route 4, from Rutland, Vt., into New York, as “the Heroin Highway.”

When 11 suspected dealers were arrested last week, seven were determined to be Granville residents, highlighting the problems with the black market in northern Washington County.

Jordan said the reason many get involved in selling Suboxone is to fund other drug usages, because the drug is inexpensive to obtain and easily marked up, especially when obtained by someone receiving government assistance.

“They sell it for up to $25 per pill,” he said. “If you’re getting 100 pills at a time on the taxpayers’ dime and selling it, it’s fairly profitable.”

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