Scott Wykoff, WBAL
As an unintended consequence of getting tough on those who have been dealing prescription painkillers, some law enforcement agencies in Maryland are reporting an increase in heroin use by young people and others in suburbs and towns across the state who are finding heroin more available and cheaper than prescription drugs.
"So what we have done is driven out the pills so to speak....and what has happened is the pills have become harder to get," Lt. Lee Dunbar, with the Harford County Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force, tells WBAL's Scott Wykoff. "What that has done is driven up the price of the pills and heroin has actually become cheaper and more readily available."
He says it’s not just an inner city problem anymore as more-and-more teenagers and 20-somethings all across the state areturning to heroin with prescription drugs getting more expensive and tougher to get.
"Pills have become harder to get," says the Lt. Dunbar who also works in the Harford County Sheriff's Office Special Investigations Division. "Through legislation, through enforcement, doctors are more aware of how they are prescribing. So what that has done has driven up the price of the pills and heroin has actually become cheaper and more readily available."
He says a pill could for example could cost $30 on the street or the black market but they can get that same high with heroin for a third of the cost.
"So now we are seeing that trend over year, 18 months, we're seeing a lot more heroin use," adds Lt. Dunbar. "And a lot more addictions and unfortunately we're seeing our overdoses go up."
He says law enforcement agencies across the state are now seeing heroin use across all classes of society.
"We see it it in all walks of life," says Lt. Dunbar. "It doesn't matter your income level, what type of family you came from, the money you make, the degree you have hanging on the wall. Unfortunately we see that addiction that is cut through all those lines."
He says you can't understate the dangers involved with the use of heroin.
"The prescription pills, the abuse that's there is very, very dangerous, don't get me wrong, adds Lt. Dunbar. "But heroin, doctors aren't prescribing it, these are your drug organizations, your drug dealers out on the corner and they are cutting it with God knows what."
As an example he points to a bad batch of heroin that found its way into Harford County a few years ago and there were 4 overdose deaths in a 24 hour from that bad batch of heroin.
"It's sad, it's heartbreaking when you see it, but yes it is extremely dangerous," says Lt. Dunbar. He says this increase in heroin use is not only a local and statewide problem but it is also a national problem.
"We as Harford County are not alone," says Lt. Dunbar. "It is in every county (in Maryland). And I know as being one of the commanders in a state task force we have statewide jurisdiction. We focus on things that are occurring here in Harford County, but we know the drugs that are coming in here a lot of times are coming from other places, Baltimore City and other counties throughout, so we're not alone."
He says it is important to cut down on the demand for heroin and prescription pills by getting people educated about this issue and looking for the signs so they can get people help.
Lt. Dunbar also says it is critical if residents see drug dealing going on or even suspect it is going on to call the Sheriff's office.
He says investigators are working around the clock to get drug dealers off the streets of Harford County.
"We have undercover officers out there laying their lives on the line every day and we have individuals like myself and other law enforcement people and the Office of Drug Control Policy doing what we can do," says Lt. Dunbar.