Stories of Addiction

In my role as digital reporter for Vermont Public Radio, I’ve been working to covering addiction in Vermont, which has garnered national attention since Governor Peter Shumlin’s State of the State speech was devoted entirely to opiate addiction.

At VPR, I’ve covered the issue from the angle of treatment, statistical reporting, and how the state’s drug economy is sometimes fueled by illegal firearms trafficking (That story was picked up by NPR).

Most recently, I’ve been focused on the impacts of addiction on the families and friends of addicts.

Brennan Dekeersgieter died of a heroin overdose in the spring of 2013, and his family has been trying to come to grips with the loss for more than a year. I spoke with his parents, Robert and Margery, and his siblings Caitlin and Colin about Brennan and about how they think about him in his absence, and how they move forward. This is their story.

On a reporting trip covering one of these stories with VPR’s digital producer, Angela Evancie, we were talking about the fact that many drug-related deaths in Vermont communities exist without memorials. Despite this, their loved ones and friends may see a place or a thing, or hear a song, or smell a smell, and think immediately of their loss. In this way, addiction’s effects are extremely widespread in Vermont.

In an effort to explore and understand the way addiction effects Vermont, Angela and I worked with VPR Web Developer Matt Parrilla, News Director John Dillon, and Director of Digital Services Jonathan Butler to create Traces.

From the page (which you should check out, because Matt did an amazing job with it):

Drug addiction affects many in our community. Whether you’ve lost a family member to a drug overdose, lost touch with a friend who uses, or are fighting your own addiction, daily reminders—objects, places, people—can be anywhere. Traces is a collection of those reminders and the memories they evoke.

Traces was also featured in the public media trade publication, Current. From that article:

The project, titled Traces, grew out of a reporting project between VPR web producer Angela Evancie and reporter Taylor Dobbs. From November to February, the team visited small towns in southern Vermont to report on the intersection of drug possession and gun ownership in the state. Vermont has both lax gun laws and a high rate of addiction to opiates, meth and other substances, fostering an illicit market in which people trade guns for drugs, Evancie said.

“We found ourselves going to a lot of motel parking lots and gun stores around town and taking pictures and videos of these empty spaces,” she said. “We knew that things had happened there and we knew that, for certain people in town, these places had probably surfaced memories.”