War on Heroin

War on Heroin
Law enforcement shines light on drug’s spike in Frederick County, Md.

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Families with young children and other guests casually walked in and out of their rooms Wednesday at the Motel 6 on West Patrick Street.

Meanwhile, a team of narcotics police officers flipped mattresses and rummaged through clothing on the motel’s third floor. Heroin suspects had been dealing out of room 331 for two weeks, police said.

Officers linked seven people to the operation. Two were found inside the room.

One man, referred to as a “middleman, street-level dealer,” was still high on heroin when handcuffed, said Officer First Class Pete Genovese, of the Frederick Police Department Drug Enforcement Unit.

About a dozen drug vials and capsules of heroin and cocaine, syringes, cotton swabs and metal spoons used in drug use were scattered about the room, but to officers, the chilling scene is not unusual.

Wednesday’s findings are becoming common in a billowing war on heroin in Frederick County, police said.

Law enforcement agencies across the county are grappling with a rise in heroin use, distribution and overdoses.

Statistics have spurred an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality to solve the problems associated with a narcotic that’s growing in popularity, law enforcement officials said.

Genovese was one of several officers leading the motel search-and-seizure Wednesday.

“This is common for us to find,” said Genovese pointing to a stash of vials, syringes and spoons coated in residue. “This type of vial, we’ve seen before. That’s typical of Baltimore.”

525a175136dfb.preview-300His hands shielded by black, sterile gloves, Genovese pointed to several blood stains on the bedsheets. He methodically looked under blankets and pillows.

“There’s some blood there,” he said. “That’s from them sticking themselves with the needles.”

FPD’s Drug Enforcement Unit has six officers and two supervisors to investigate drug crimes in Frederick, Genovese said.

Lt. Clark Pennington, the criminal investigation division commander, said the DEU will execute search warrants nearly every time they make drug arrests, often uncovering drug operations on a much larger scale than the amounts seen in plain sight.

Pennington said heroin is not replac
ing marijuana as the most common drug of choice, but it is closing in on cocaine as the second-most common drug locally.

“There’s definitely more. I started here in 2006 when there was some heroin, but it fizzled out,” said FPD Cpl. Vince Brown, a new member to the DEU. “Now the price of coke has gone through the roof and heroin is becoming more common.”

Brown said the heroin operation at Motel 6 came to police through an anonymous tip. He stressed the importance of using the tip line to solve drug crimes.

Heroin cases on the rise

More than 160 grams of opiates — which include heroin and other narcotics — were recovered in Frederick in 2012. In 2007, police seized only six grams, according to FPD’s drug seizure statistics.

Not a single gram of heroin or other opiates were recovered in 2008.

This year, more than 67 grams have been seized in Frederick between January and August, said Lt. Dennis Dudley, the commander of the Special Operations Division.

Heroin is an opioid drug synthesized from morphine that is either smoked, snorted or injected into the bloodstream for a feeling of euphoria.

Capsules typically recovered by law enforcement hold about 1/2 gram of heroin, police said, enough for a daily dose to the average user.

Dudley said the trend is still at the point where most of the dealing is not done in Frederick. The majority of heroin seized comes from exchanges made in Baltimore and brought back into Frederick for use.

FPD’s databases do not separate seizures or arrests based on individual drugs but fall into one category for opiates, Dudley said. The department is looking at new software to categorize crimes per type of drug because of the trends officers are seeing with heroin, he said.

“Fifteen years ago we never thought of pulling data in that way. Since we have each version of the drug to deal with in the city, it’s difficult to sort,” Dudley said. “We’re working on upgrading data software to make specific crimes easier to sort and track, but it’s not online yet.”

Thurmont Police Chief Gregory Eyler said the spike in heroin use has been more of a steep incline this year rather than gradual rise over time. Users have discovered that heroin can produce the same high as Oxycontin, a prescription painkiller, for lesser cost, he said.

He would not disclose how officers conduct surveillance or what tactics they use to police the drug use, but said the methods are working.

Thurmont police arrested 30 people in 2012 on drug charges that range from marijuana to heroin and crack cocaine. Six warrants were also served.

In 2013, the department arrested 36 people and served 23 drug warrants.

The Frederick Police Department’s DEU handles drug crime investigations and conducts surveillance on target areas where police have received complaints or anonymous tips, Pennington said.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office operated a joint narcotics task force with the Maryland State Police. State police pulled out of the effort in September.

Five troopers and seven sheriff’s deputies were dedicated to dismantling local drug operations in the county, but only the sheriff’s deputies remain, according to Sheriff Chuck Jenkins.

At a time when heroin is on the rise, Jenkins said it was in poor taste for state police to reassign troopers in the Frederick Barrack and have them focus on multijurisdictional statewide issues.

“The priority should be on local enforcement and local investigations,” he said.

He said the sheriff’s office is still committed to fighting the rise in heroin and will have to find new ways to fill the gaps for policing heroin and other narcotics.

“The number of drug tips and cases are on the rise,” Jenkins said. “The cases are not going to decrease, but now we have five less members.”

Jenkins said the sheriff’s office does still have support from its federal partners including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The county’s sheriff’s office made 20 heroin-related arrests as of Sept. 18 this year.

Only two of those arrests were linked to distribution or intent to distribute, and the rest were for possession.

Sheriff’s deputies made 17 arrests in all of 2012.

Overdose deaths

“We’re losing many many young people to this horrible addiction,” she said. “She was 25, but she’ll always be my baby.”

Frederick County saw 10 fatal heroin overdoses in 2012, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Ten overdose deaths were also reported in 2011. In 2010, were six reported.

Across the state, data show heroin killed 378 people in 2012, a 54 percent rise from 245 in 2011.

In Baltimore, where Dudley said much of the heroin in Frederick County comes from, 126 people fell victim to overdoses in 2012 and 76 did in 2011, according to DHMH statistics.

The sheriff’s office also handed 14 heroin overdose calls as of Sept. 19 this year. One was fatal.

In all of 2012, the sheriff’s office handled 12 heroin overdoses, three of which were fatal.

Eyler, like other law enforcement officials, said officers educate families and residents of the dangers through community meetings and pamphlets.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to education parents and kids,” he said. “We open the lines of communication.”

Suzanne Preudhomme, of Frederick, is one of a growing number of those affected by the dangers of heroin.

“I’ve had the unfortunate and tragic experience of losing my daughter to heroin at age 25,” she said of her daughter, Donna, who died in 2012.

She said she’s now focused on advocating for drug abuse awareness in the aftermath of her daughter’s death.

“We’re losing many many young people to this horrible addiction,” she said. “She was 25, but she’ll always be my baby.”

Follow Daniel J. Gross on Twitter: @DanielJGross.

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