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Oakland County

April 17, 2014

Heroin cases on the rise, police say

By Cari DeLamielleure-Scott
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
West Bloomfield K-9 Jasper searches for heroin hidden in a garage during a training exercise April 14.

OAKLAND COUNTY — With the Oakland County Narcotics Enforcement Team’s heroin cases increasing by 300 percent since last year, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and local police departments are encouraging parents to become more aware of their children’s activities and to properly dispose of unused prescription drugs.

In 2013, undercover officers with Oakland County NET initiated 15 heroin cases. Since January 2014, the number of cases has spiked to 55, crowning heroin a “king” drug, West Bloomfield Lt. Curtis Lawson said.

Within the last two weeks, West Bloomfield has had four heroin-related cases, and two were fatal, according to Police Chief Michael Patton.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people are starting with a transitional drug. The biggest transitional drug is illegally used prescription drugs,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. “When they run out of a prescription … and they can no longer get it out of the medicine cabinet, they go to the streets.”

While prescription pills may cost $40 each on the streets, a bindle, or one dose, of heroin may cost $10, Bouchard said.

“Why do we feel it’s important to talk about this in West Bloomfield? Because heroin is being seen across all economic classes in both urban and suburb areas. Teenagers who have a history of experimenting with pain medications are moving on to heroin, and sometimes, it has deadly results,” Lawson said.

West Bloomfield officers came across an incident in West Bloomfield in which teenagers took prescription drugs from their parents to a party and placed all the drugs into a bowl, calling it “trail mix.” They then took a scoop of the miscellaneous drug mix and ingested the pills, according to Lawson.

“One of the problems with the ‘trail mix’ parties is they’re mixing the (central nervous system) stimulants and (central nervous system) depressants. … Mixing uppers and downers can lead to sudden death,” Lawson said.

The South Oakland Narcotics Intelligence Consortium this month conducted a search warrant at a residence in West Bloomfield and found 3,000 prescription pills of various brands that were allegedly being sold in the community. Because it is an ongoing investigation, Lawson declined to give additional details of the search.

The quality and purity of heroin is significantly higher than it was 10-15 years ago, Bouchard explained. Heroin content was anywhere from 3-10 percent, with 10 percent being considered “good.” Now, due to the quality of heroin coming in from various places, especially Afghanistan, Bouchard said Oakland County NET is currently seeing a trend of 80-90 percent purity, possibly causing addiction or an overdose on the first use. 

“That’s why you’re seeing all the overdoses. … They take a hit of this super pure heroin, and it overwhelms their system,” Bouchard said.

Law enforcement officials suggest the following for minimizing adolescent exposure to prescription drugs and heroin:

• Keep an updated inventory of prescription drugs in the house.

• Lock up prescription drugs.

• Be aware of your children’s friends and look for signs of changed behavior and mood swings.

• Dispose of unused or expired medications at one of Operation Medicine Cabinet’s 21 locations.

“(Heroin) is drifting down into the teens dramatically and into the high schools. On one weekend, we had 16 overdoses across the county. … Parents really have to tune in to what is going on in their kid’s life,” Bouchard said.

Heroin is an opioid, a psychoactive chemical, synthesized from morphine, which is a natural substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian opium poppy seed plant. Heroin can appear in three forms — a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance, “black tar heroin,” and can be injected, snorted, smoked or ingested.

The National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration issued a public advisory March 14 stating that, since January, the number of deaths on the East Coast reportedly linked to heroin use contaminated with the synthetic opiate fentanyl, which carries a potency 50-100 times that of morphine, has increased.

While Oakland County NET attests they have not seen heroin contaminated with fentanyl in Oakland County, the price of heroin is dropping due to the increase supply and purity in the market.

“The more heroin that’s available, the purity goes up,” Lawson said. “If there’s less heroin available on the street, people will cut it more with different substances.”

Effects from heroin include abscesses from intravenous use, poisoning from unknown additives or contaminants, collapsed veins, liver disease, infectious diseases such as hepatitis, and sudden death.

Robert Gerds, administrator at the Oakland County Medical Examiners’ Office, explained that it is often difficult to determine a cause of death due to heroin use, and 6-monoacetylmorphine — or 6-MAM,  which is a metabolite unique to heroin but has a short half-life — is necessary to verify heroin use is present.

“If we don’t find 6-MAM, we don’t say it’s heroin,” Gerds said. “Yes, there are heroin deaths, but the overwhelming majority (of drug-related deaths) is from prescription drug abuse.”

Toxicology reports take a month, minimum.

“If it’s an acute overdose, then we’ll find (6-MAM). Just because there’s syringes at the scene, heroin isn’t the only drug that’s injected. So that’s why it’s difficult,” Gerds said.

The Examiner’s Office classifies death in five manners: homicide, suicide, accident, natural and undetermined. Most drug deaths are classified as drug abuse, undetermined.

“(Heroin is) kind of like the designer drug of the week,” Gerds said. “All this drug abuse, all of it cumulatively, is killing the country.”

National Drug Take Back Day is 7 a.m.-7 p.m. April 23. The Drug Enforcement Agency-sponsored event will take place at 21 locations throughout Oakland County where citizens can dispose of unused, unneeded or expired medications. For more information, visit www.oakgov.com/sheriff.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cari DeLamielleure-Scott at cdelamielleure@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1093.