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Editorial: Drug arrest at long last for neighborhood

The neighbors of 375 Nazareth Home Road in Rockwell have been waiting a long time for the arrest that finally came last Thursday. Working with the SBI and Salisbury Police, investigators from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office arrested Grady Edward “Eddie” Austin, 57, and placed him under $2 million bond on charges of heroin-trafficking.

A woman who lives nearby had sent a letter on behalf of the neighborhood to law enforcement agencies, the district attorney elected officials and the media, pleading for help.

“We are attempting to alleviate our neighborhood of an ongoing problem and are asking for assistance,” she wrote. “There is a home at 375 Nazareth Home Road in Rockwell that we believe should be condemned as a public nuisance.”

Officers busted a meth lab there in 2014. Since then, several people overdosed on heroin at the house, including a man who died last June, and others have been arrested for drug possession and grand larceny — all just 500 yards from Nazareth Children’s Home and the YMCA.

The fatal overdose triggered an investigation that led to surveillance and undercover drug buys. According to Chief Deputy David Ramsey, Austin and another person went to Charlotte to get large amounts of heroin from Mexican national drug suppliers. When officers saw Austin enter the house on Nazareth Home Road on Thursday, they closed in.

Investigators reported finding only 47 grams on Austin, but they also found pills, meth, syringes and other evidence, including a user with a needle still sticking in his arm.

Drug enemy No. 1 these days is heroin, a key part of the opioid addiction crisis ruining lives and killing people at an escalating rate. The number of heroin-related deaths in North Carolina jumped more than 500 percent between 2010 and 2014. Rowan County had five heroin deaths in 2013 and six in 2014, according to N.C. Public Health.

The frustrating part for citizens and investigators is the gap between knowing someone is dealing in drugs and proving it in a way that will stand up in court. Investigators don’t want an arrest that will lead to a slap on the wrist; they want to see dealers behind bars for a long time. If Austin is found guilty, he could face a sentence of nearly 25 years.

“I think maybe we’ve addressed it this time in a solid way,” Ramsey said.

Austin is only one person, and he is innocent until proved guilty. Still, authorities deserve kudos for arresting a man believed to be a major player in the local heroin trade.

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