By Jojo Kofman
BURLINGTON, VT – Two different cases this week in Chittenden County Superior Court dealt with individuals struggling with opioid addiction, and both cases brought criminal charges against the accused, while simultaneously trying to balance treatment vs. prosecution.
In the first case, a woman, who was charged with retail theft, methamphetamine possession, and heroin possession, showed up to court early Monday in Chittenden County Superior Court, Vermont.
Deputy Public Defender Molly Reis reported the accused “has been working on her sobriety while this case has been pending.”
“I thought that was supposed to happen 60 days ago,” said Judge John L. Pacht.
PD Reis explained “Safe Recovery” hasn’t provided the records which show the accused’s recovery.
In response, Judge Pacht said, “Safe recovery is part of the Howard Center, it shouldn’t be a big deal to get them…If there’s no resolution today I’ll put this on pretrial for September…I’m confused as to why after 60 days…we can’t get the records.”
“Everyone is very backed up judge; we are awaiting the records,” emphasized PD Reis.
Judge Pacht stated, “The safe recovery minutes go back to March, April actually,” and then concluded restating that this case will be on for pretrial in late September.
The accused told this reporter, “I went to recovery and signed the release of information…I’ve done my part, it just stinks. He (the judge) is right, how is this not done yet? But it ends up being reflected onto me.”
She openly explained that she’s struggled with addiction ever since she was little. “It’s what I went to…it was my outlet…I’m trying to replace those habits with good habits now. I overdosed not too long ago…I’ve been raped, sexually assaulted…”
The accused emphasized that Vermont had more access to addiction resources and treatment options than other states where she lived, stating, “Luckily in Vermont there’s more access to Narcan.”
Still, she pointed to her struggles with housing, noting she was lucky enough to be living in “Motel 6,” but said, “I have until Sept. 22 based on the occupancy agreement. It ends on that day…I will get kicked out.”
The second case heard Monday was for a man who is incarcerated on $200 bail.
Judge Pacht started the status conference by asking Deputy District Attorney Sarah F. George what her position was regarding the accused’s bail.
DDA George said her concern about release was that he had recently relapsed, and as she explained, many people who relapse and then are released from incarceration end up dying.
Then, Deputy Public Defender John B. St. Francis described his client’s situation, stating, “He’s trying to get into ‘Valley Vista’ (addiction treatment center), which has been hard.”
Judge Pacht interjected, “It’s actually not,” and then asked, “Is he getting MAT?”
MAT is a medication-assisted treatment used to help treat people struggling with addiction and substance use disorders and is primarily used for the treatment of addiction to opioids.
PD Francis responded to the judge, admitting, “I’m not sure what they give them in jail, but he said he’s getting meds. We were just about to get treatment…but he recently fell off the wagon. He has a two-year-old daughter.”
Judge Pacht concluded by emphasizing the importance of the treatment plan upon his release, stating to both parties, “I want us to focus on the infrastructure for the release…how he will make it on the outside.”
The judge then said, “I want to make sure he’s in MAT treatment,” explaining that it will help him with opioid addiction and not overdosing when he gets out of jail. He then noted he wanted to make sure the man was getting MAT while being incarcerated.
Judge Pacht set a motion for a bail hearing for the accused “as soon as possible.”