Heroin cases on the rise in Suffolk

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, March 31, 2011

A crackdown on heroin in Suffolk has led to a swell of cases involving the drug in recent years, city officials said this week.

Especially after police received numerous reports of heroin overdoses last year, law enforcement officers have begun to turn the screws on heroin dealers and users alike, police said.

Suffolk Police Capt. Dean Smith confirmed that police “stepped up” enforcement of the drug as a result of the overdose cases last year.

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Heroin is a highly addictive opiate synthesized from morphine, Smith said. There are many risks involved in heroin use, such as the threat of HIV with intravenous use. But the most dangerous thing about heroin is its addictiveness, Smith said.

In fact, he believes drug dealers often choose to sell heroin because there is more money in it as a result of its addictive nature.

“The dealers know that those that are on heroin get strongly addicted, and their bodies need the drug to maintain,” he said.

Smith said he could not give an exact number of incidents that involved heroin during the past year, but he said the city of Suffolk is in the process of prosecuting 11 cases that deal with the drug.

Previously, the majority of drug cases prosecuted in Suffolk dealt with crack cocaine or marijuana, Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips “Phil” Ferguson said.

But, he added, “I think there has been an increase in the number of cases involving both use and distribution of heroin.”

Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Glassman said he also has noticed an increase in heroin cases. The commonwealth’s attorney’s office is prosecuting everything from “simple possession to distribution,” he said.

Smith said the cases involve volumes ranging from six capsules, which hold one dose of heroin each, to four ounces.

The intent to distribute heroin cannot be determined from the weight of the amount in possession alone, Glassman said. Other factors, such as the packaging of the drugs and a suspect carrying large amounts of money, also could lead to a distribution charge.

The possible sentence for a heroin distribution charge is five to 40 years in jail, he said, while simple possession carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

The increase in prosecution, Glassman said, could lead some to conclude that heroin is more widespread in Suffolk than it has been in the past.

Ferguson said price could be a reason for an increase.

“Heroin may be a little less expensive,” Ferguson said. “We think people might be switching from crack cocaine to heroin.”

Heroin sells locally for about $10 a capsule, a price that has remained pretty steady during the past few years, Smith said.

But even in the face of an apparent increase in the popularity of heroin, prosecutors say it has not taken over as “the predominant drug choice.” Suffolk’s biggest drug problems, Glassman said, seem to be the same they have been for a long time — cocaine and marijuana.