More heroin making its way into Rowan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

By Shelley Smith
The word heroin comes from the Greek word “heros.” And the feeling those who take the drug get makes them think they can do anything.
But that feeling only lasts about 15 minutes. And then the addiction begins.
David Ramsey, chief deputy of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, has been in law enforcement for 32 years and he says heroin has never been as prevalent in Rowan as it is today.
Authorities say those who have taken the drug think about when they wake up, and then they want it so bad it’s all they think about all day. Even when they’re falling asleep, using heroin is flashing through their mind, and they start mapping out how to get more for the next day.
Users have told law enforcement officers that after the first time they use heroin, they’re hooked. The addiction takes over.
Sheriff Kevin Auten said in his 14 years of drug work, he never seized heroin. “We’ve never seen it like this here,” he said. “I think it’s a really big problem now. I think most law enforcement in the Charlotte metro area now will tell you that.”
Heroin abuse and prescription painkiller abuse go hand-in-hand, Ramsey said. “When people can’t get those, they use heroin, and when they can’t get heroin, they use prescription drugs,” he said. “It’s kind of like a bad marriage, really.”
Black tar heroin is the type most often found locally. Users heat it and inject it into a vein.
Mexican drug trafficking groups have taken over distribution, Ramsey said. They fill tiny balloons with balls of the sticky black heroin for the trip from the southwestern border states to Atlanta, then to Charlotte and on into Rowan.
When it gets here, heroin is mostly for consumers, not distributors, Ramsey said. Most cases of heroin abuse have surfaced in the southern part of the county, “just because of the proximity going toward Concord and Charlotte,” he said.
Abuse of prescription drugs is going on “absolutely everywhere,” he said.
Rowan has its share of heroin and pill houses, which are used to distribute drugs. “From interviews of witnesses or interviews of people we’ve arrested, there seems to be a lot of the mix and match between the two drugs,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said heroin is a drug that will never go away until laws are tightened on dispensing prescription drugs.
Doctors are supposed to put patients’ names in a database, Ramsey said, but only about 16 percent of doctors in the county are in compliance.
“It’s got to be mandatory,” he said. “We can’t let them have the option.”
A new bill — House Bill 656 — co-sponsored by Harry Warren (R-Rowan), proposes that anyone picking up a schedule II controlled substance show photo identification. “They should never allow those kinds of drugs to be distributed without proof of identification,” Ramsey said. “They’ve got to get a handle on that. … It’s frustrating, really.”
Ramsey said one person the sheriff’s office arrested this year told him that he was originally a pill user, but when his dealer was out of everything but heroin, he tried it.
“He did it one time and he was hooked,” Ramsey said. “He said his whole cycle, every day, was trying to sell heroin to buy his own heroin.”
Another reason heroin is such a huge problem, Ramsey said, is because it’s so cheap.
An individual dose is about one tenth of a gram, and a gram goes for about $100.
“It’s a lot cheaper than it used to be,” he said. “And I think until we get a handle on the prescription drugs we’re going to continue to see a huge spike in it.
“If that reporting system were active, that would help a lot.”
Warren said that since these schedule II controlled substances are so addictive, the bill would help “tighten our controls,” providing a paper trail for law enforcement that could also raise red flags for pharmacists.
Warren said the bill has a good chance of being passed if it gets heard.
But even if it passes, Ramsey said dealers know there’s so much money in heroin and too many addicts in America to stop distribution anytime soon.
“Once it takes over, (users) don’t seem to care about themselves, the drug just takes over them,” Salisbury Police Detective Danny Dyles said.
Dyles said county deputies see most of the heroin cases, but city officers are seeing an increase in cases.
But as more agencies work together, the easier it will be to keep off the streets. “In order to keep it out, we’re going to have to team up with them. Neither agency has the manpower to fight it alone.”