Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 22, 2014

Heroin: A growing threat

BLUEFIELD — A new threat is emerging in the region with a sharp increase in heroin usage being reported.

Recent successes in terms of the number of arrests and prosecutions of individuals who illegally abuse prescription narcotics has in return driven up the cost of those pills. And that’s led some drug addicts to turn to heroin as a cheaper way to get high.

“Heroin is definitely on the rise in West Virginia, and it is definitely on the rise in southern West Virginia,” West Virginia State Police Sgt. J.S. McCarty, who also serves as the coordinator of the Southern Regional Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, said. “It is definitely something that is here, and it is definitely something we are coming in contact with. Not just us in an undercover process but as regular police officers.”

McCarty said heroin overdose deaths in West Virginia increased from 34 statewide in 2010 to 67 in 2012. He said the 2013 statistics — when they are released — are expected to be even higher.

With drug dealers having a harder time illegally obtaining prescriptions pills, the street price of the pills that are available has increased significantly. As a result, McCarty said many addicts are turning to heroin to get their fix.

“Many of the pill mills in the state of Florida and in our state have been shut down,” McCarty said. “So they are literally getting harder to find. For the most part — say if someone is addicted to oxycodone, and the oxycodone is not available anymore — the body still needs certain things provided by the oxycodone, and heroin is really the only alternative.”

While heroin abuse was once just associated with big cities, it is now becoming prevalent in the coalfield counties as well. McCarty said most drug dealers are getting the heroin from out of state.

“Heroin flows into our region from several source cities — usually Detroit, Columbus, Pittsburgh — mostly it comes from a source outside of West Virginia,” he said.

But neighboring Virginia is seeing some of its heroin cases coming from West Virginia, according to Major Harold Heatley with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office.

“We think — and based upon some of the things we are seeing and some of the information we are gathering — we believe it is coming even further north than West Virginia. But primarily it is coming (into Tazewell County) from West Virginia.”

Heatley said Tazewell County is now seeing an increase in heroin cases.

“Our agency in particular has not made a heroin arrest, but some of our agents — and we have three agents on the county-wide drug task force — they have made a number of cases on heroin, and it seems to be coming a lot more frequently. I know last year we actually had our first prosecution from heroin in many years. We have seen a rise. I don’t know if it is more but we have seen an increase in the charges that are involving heroin.”

McCarty said the task force, and area law enforcement agencies, are utilizing similar tactics to combat the heroin threat.

“The tactics are still the same as far as investigations that are worked,” McCarty said. “One thing we are trying to do and have been doing out of this office since late 2013 is we’ve tried to conduct educational training for the teachers. And we’ve been doing that in Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming counties with the people associated with the school to get them on board.”

McCarty said it is important to reach children at an early age. Current national statistics suggest that the average age now when a child will come into contact with an illegal substance is age 11.

“It’s a sad fact, but if you have kids, you need to have that talk with them now a lot earlier,” McCarty said.

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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