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Heroin: A Deadly Epidemic — What Investigators Say

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

Within the past several years, area law enforcement officials say heroin has been the go-to drug in Rowan County. There has been an upward trend in use of the highly addictive drug merely because it is accessible, an alternative to prescription painkillers and is cheaper.

In less than five years, the number of heroin-related deaths in North Carolina increased by 382 percent from 2010 to 2013, which are the most available statistics.

About 20 years ago, heroin was in High Point and other areas of North Carolina, while what had been seen in Rowan County at that time was cocaine and methamphetamine. However, within the past six to seven years, the drug has reached epidemic proportions in Rowan County, investigators say.

This summer alone there have been a number of incidents involving the drug in this area. Rowan County investigators discovered more than a pound of heroin inside underground piping and stashed in a South Jackson Street home in mid-July. The heroin was hidden inside PVC pipe along with coffee grounds designed to mask the odor.

An Iredell County pair were charged in June with a major heroin operation in southwest Rowan and the Mooresville area. One of those charged in that incident drove to Charlotte numerous times to pick up large amounts of heroin from Mexican national suppliers, investigators said.

Origins

The drug originates from Mexico, local officials say, but heroin makes its way to Rowan County by way of Atlanta, New York and Charlotte. None of the product is processed here, investigators say.By the time it hits the Rowan County line, it’s ready for sale.

What investigators are seeing for sale in this area is black tar heroin, which is the most commonly used type in this state.

Black tar heroin, a sticky substance, typically transported in balloons or plastic bags, like the other forms of heroin can be melted along with water and “cooked” on a spoon using an open flame. Users inject the melted liquid intravenously, resulting in an immediate high.

Heroin Users

The majority of users are middle class, white people, said Sgt. Black, a Rowan County Sheriff’s detective. Of those users, Black said teens and women often start by using pills, usually an opiate derivative that can include oxycodone or hydrocodone.

Some users are over-prescribed pain medications by doctors, become addicted to pills and eventually move onto heroin, Black said.

The effects of prescription pills on the brain and body are the same for heroin.

“People have a misconception because they are pharmaceutical made and prescribed by a doctor,” Black said.

He said most heroin users switch to the drug because it’s simply cheaper and plentiful. Years ago you could only obtain a 10th of a gram, but now the drug is sold in grams or bindles and is “everywhere.”

One gram of heroin has an estimated cost of $100 to $125, Black said.

Pills aren’t the only drug that has led to heroin, Black said. Some users, while high on marijuana, decide to “try” heroin.

Detective Morgan, with the Salisbury Police Department, said reformulations of prescription pills have led those with pill addictions to switch to heroin. The pills can no longer be snorted or injected, he said, because some turn to a jelly-like substance.

Morgan said users have also began mixing fentanyl, a narcotic pain reliever, and heroin with deadly results.

The number of overdose deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl even prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a nationwide alert. Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine, authorities say.

Heroin is a semi-synthetic substance that is made from morphine.

Detectives say drug dealers who used to sell other drugs — marijuana, cocaine and pills — are now selling heroin.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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