Heroin and its precursor opium have plagued the United States for more than a hundred years, causing countless people to become addicted to its euphoric and rush-like effects. This potentially deadly drug is readily available, inexpensive and its popularity does not seem to be diminishing. It often follows in the footsteps of prescription drug abuse.
Between 2004 and 2009, the number of people requiring emergency room help in this country for prescription drug abuse, including opiates, almost doubled, hitting 1.24 million people, according to Narconon International. As federal, state and county agencies try to respond to this never-ending desire for drugs, local police agencies are also doing what they can to combat drug abuse.
Undersheriff Chris Swanson of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department said in the past six months, the county has experienced a significant increase of overdoses. This includes out-county areas like Fenton City, Fenton Township and Linden.
When asked why this was so, Swanson said the county medical examiner indicated that a hot batch of heroin has made its way into the area. This batch is laced with fentanyl, an addictive painkiller that is 100 times more potent than morphine. These two drugs are a deadly combination, said Swanson.
Investigators are finding that the heroin is being smuggled in from South America (black tar), Afghanistan (brown stone) and Asia. “It’s not coming from the U.S.,” said Swanson. “You won’t find fields of poppy plants in the U.S. and Asia has a ton of heroin.”
The potency of heroin is what is so deadly, said Swanson. Someone might be addicted to one potency for six months and then use heroin from a different batch, which is more potent, causing a fatal overdose.
Heroin is cheaper than cocaine, but more expensive than crack and way more addictive, said Swanson. In all of the cases that Swanson has seen, every one of the users started out using marijuana, then prescription medication and then heroin. “Every one of them starts out smoking weed,” he said. “That seems to be the progression.”
Swanson acknowledges there have been some high profile cases in the Fenton area however, they are seeing two to six overdoses, not necessarily fatal, per day in Genesee County.
For Fenton Township, the sheriff’s department has investigated 26 narcotic incidences in the past five years. The majority of cases involve heroin. “By far prescription drugs are the most abused, followed by heroin,” said Swanson.
Swanson strongly encourages everyone to rid their home of unused prescriptions. “Get them out of your home,” he said. This includes cough syrup with codeine. “Get rid of it.”
Those wanting to buy heroin can do so as easily as tweeting a message or sending a friend a private note on Facebook, said Swanson. “Parents need to be 100-percent vigilant on going through their kids’ stuff,” he said. He added this is not just a kid problem — adults are also at risk. If anyone suspects a loved one of using heroin, they should confront them and then get them help.
Swanson’s first choice for drug abusers is “Reformers Unanimous” (reformu.com) due to their rate of success. His next suggestions would be to ask your church, and then local hospital for help.
Fenton Police Chief Rick Aro was not too surprised when he rounded up the stats for heroin incidences that Fenton police have dealt with from 2008 to the present.
In 2008, ’09, ’10, there were no deaths or non-fatal overdoses, and two arrests in each of those years. In 2011, Fenton had three deaths, one non-fatal overdose and no arrests. In 2012, Fenton had one death, four non-fatal overdoses and six arrests. In 2013, they have had no deaths, three non-fatal overdoses and four arrests.
Aro said it is common for area residents who are looking to buy heroin to make their purchases in the Flint or Detroit area. He said the user will usually buy a bindle (one dose) of heroin in powder form wrapped in paper and foil. If police recover any, it’s a small amount. “It’s gone quickly,” said Aro. “There’s no such thing as a casual user.”
Linden Police Chief Scott Sutter does believe there is an increase in heroin use with Linden residents, but the buying and usage is not necessarily taking place in Linden. He said, oftentimes residents of Linden go elsewhere to make the purchase so the stats might not show a clear-cut view.
“We do have parents asking for help,” said Sutter. “We try to assist.” The chief recalled how one Linden man took credit cards from a Linden schools employee in an effort to buy heroin. That case is pending.
Sutter said he sees parents coming to the police station three or four times a month looking for help with their kids who are addicted to drugs. It’s typical for the kids to start stealing valuable items from their parents to buy their next fix. The chief said he knows of at least one resident who prostituted herself to pay for her drugs. He added that police helped her get out of that situation and into rehab.
Sutter said it is common for some people to become addicted to prescription medicine and if that supply is interrupted, they are likely to turn to illicit drugs. He believes the prescription take-back events are helping to rid homes of unwanted drugs. “It gets rid of the temptation,” he said.
Sgt. Julie Bemus of the Holly Police Department said the only heroin incident in Holly Village happened in July 2013. She said a female overdosed on heroin and was saved by the actions of the police and EMS personnel who responded. The woman was unconscious and rescue measures were given by police to keep her alive until EMS arrived and reversed the effects of the drug.
“We’ve been on other overdose calls since but I believe all of them have been for suspected prescription drug overdose,” said Bemus. “I don’t show any arrests for heroin possession or any deaths in the last two years.”
D/F/Lt. Pat Richard of the Michigan State Police and section commander of the Flint Area Narcotics Group (FANG), said without a doubt, marijuana is the gateway drug to other drugs, including heroin. He bases this opinion on his nearly three decades of working for the state.
While he has seen a 100-percent increase in heroin seizures in the Genesee County, the majority is taking place in Flint. In response FANG investigates around the clock, routinely conducts undercover buys and executes search warrants. Heroin in Flint most likely has come from Detroit, which is a huge source for the drug.
Users will do anything they can to buy their next fix, said Richard. This includes stealing from others and retail fraud, predominately at big box stores. “They will pawn it or trade for drugs,” he said.
Richard is convinced that teens need to be educated and to know that smoking pot will lead to bigger drugs. “It happens a lot,” he said. With more and more people using medical marijuana, because it is legal, it has taken some of the perceived risk away. However, Richard said since medical marijuana production is not regulated a user can never be 100-percent sure of what is in that medical marijuana. “You don’t know what’s in it,” he said.
Richard said his crew works hard on this everyday. “They are diligent at their profession. We just keep working.”
What is heroin?
Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.”
In 2011, 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older (or 1.6 percent) had used heroin at least once in their lives. It is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.
Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. Some individuals reported taking up heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.
Institute on Drug Abuse