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Heroin gains a deadly foothold in Vermont

“At first it was fun to get messed up, and then I had to,” said Samantha Emerson, a 26-year-old single mother of two.
“At first it was fun to get messed up, and then I had to,” said Samantha Emerson, a 26-year-old single mother of two.Credit: Essdras M Suarez /Globe Staff

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Every day, Samantha Emerson fights the craving for opiates that led to her life under a leaking roof beside a trash-strewn yard. The 26-year-old mother of two has no job, cannot afford to fix her car, and faces eviction from a home where chaos is the rule.

But from her kitchen window in Fairfield, a few miles east of St. Albans in far northern Vermont, snow-topped mountains rise majestically from the thick forest. It is a jarring contrast — at once serene and devastating — that has come to characterize a place that many Americans associate with covered bridges and dairy farms.

Here in Franklin County, hard by the Canadian border, cheap heroin and stolen prescription drugs have ravaged many of Emerson’s generation and the teenagers behind them. Although Emerson insists she is sober now, the battle rages for her and a bucolic state that Governor Peter Shumlin said is confronting a “full-blown heroin crisis.”

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