Police say cheap heroin behind increases

Heroin overdoses are on the rise in Havelock, and officials are dealing with those ramifications.

Assistant Chief Steve Coffey has worked for the Havelock Fire and Rescue Department for 30 years. In that time, he said the increase in calls for heroin overdoses is like “night and day.”

“We’ve had a significant increase in drug overdoses, heroin in particular,” said Coffey.

Coffey said Havelock mirrors North Carolina and the nation in drug overdoses.

“It has been on the rise slowly, but it has gotten really bad this past year,” said Coffey.

According to the North Carolina office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the state has had 3,415 deaths from opioid overdoses since 2012, a number that is considered lower than the actual numbers of individuals who have died. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the country.

“Overdoses go hand in hand with the demand,” said Havelock Police Chief David Magnusson, who on Tuesday attended the Federal Opioid Reduction Alliance for North Carolina strategic initiative in Raleigh, where city police chiefs and county sheriffs joined with state and federal officials to increase awareness, prevention efforts and prosecutions related to opioids across the state.

Megan McGarvey, spokesman for CarolinaEast Medical Center, said the hospital reported 47 accidental drug overdose patients in 2015. Through 8 1/2 months of 2016, 73 such cases have been reported, including 48 since June 1.

“Our system does not allow pulling out and separating what type of drug, but we can say pretty confidently that the lion’s share of these would be heroin and opioid,” McGarvey said. “ … It’s going to take many, many community stakeholders coming together to figure out how we are going to break the cycle.”

Magnusson said recent emphasis by law enforcement on shutting down “pill mills” selling oxycodone and oxycontin has turned a lot of drug users toward heroin.

“You have more people using it, and with that is going to come more overdoses,” said Magnusson.

Heroin has been one of the least expensive drugs on the black market for several years, he said.

“It was cheaper at the time and a more intense high and that’s basically what has taken place,” said Magnusson. “That being said, it really does come down to a very simple formula of economics. When the demand is greater than the supply, then, from the seller’s point of view, the price is too low, and they raise the price. And the price of heroin has gone up.”

Magnusson likens today’s heroin crisis to the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s.

“A lot of first-time users have flooded the market after the pill situation when there was a heavy, intense law enforcement effort against that, with doctors writing these prescriptions, just a number of variables,” said Magnusson. “There’s a lot of old-time heroin users out there and they seem to know what they are doing far more than these new heroin users that have jumped into it.”

Heroin users have also increased their risk of overdose because many are adding in the potent tranquilizer Carfentanil, Coffey said.

“Ten milligrams can take down a South African elephant,” he said. “That’s why there has been such an increase in fatalities with the heroin overdoses because it’s not just heroin. It’s mixed with Carfentanil, which is so potent that the DEA has put out an (advisory) to first responders about not making skin contact with it because it’s so potent. It’s bad stuff.”

Coffey has noticed that the city has purchased more Narcan (also known as Naloxone), an opiate antidote, than ever before.

“The drug that we use for drug overdoses, heroin overdoses or any narcotic overdose is Narcan and compared to the first nine months of last year we used about 105 percent more this year than we used last year,” said Coffey.

Overdoses have become such a problem that the state allows pharmacies that carry Narcan to sell it over the counter without a prescription.

“The heroin overdoses have gotten so bad in the state that the state legislators have fixed it where they can just walk into a drug store and buy it over the counter now,” Coffey said. “So you and your buddy can go do heroin and if you do too much, your buddy can give you the Narcan and keep you from dying.”

Magnusson said that access to the antidote drug may encourage some heroin addicts to use larger amounts of the deadly drug.

“That’s great for saving lives, but I would also subscribe to you that when you’ve got a heroin addict and he’s with a friend, or something, he’s going to push that envelope a little bit more, knowing that there’s going to be somebody there to administer that lifesaving drug,” said Magnusson.

Havelock has had two fatal overdoses this year believed to have been caused by heroin.

“If it was only one last month and two this month, it’s still not the end of the world in the sense of what goes on in other places, but if it’s three next month and four the month after that, you’ve got something that’s consistently growing,” said Magnusson. “It’s something right over the horizon that is going to be a major concern for this country if it isn’t already because at this point, right now, today, it doesn’t seem like there is any end in sight.”

Now that the price of heroin is increasing again, law enforcement is tasked with handling a growing number of thefts, car break-ins, and burglaries committed by addicts attempting to finance their habit, Magnusson said.

“You don’t want these people, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ people, just walking around in altered states looking for whatever they can pillage and plunder to get their next fix,” he said. “What used to be a cheap drug, the price is going up so you figure that to keep their habit up, the money’s going to have to come from somewhere.”

Magnusson said residents can help with the problem.

“If they know of any houses where they are selling or believe they are selling, especially heroin or cocaine, give us a call and we will follow up on every tip,” said Magnusson.