WILMINGTON — It’s cheaper than a six-pack of beer, it can be easier for a minor to get than cigarettes, and it shortens its users’ lifespans by 18 years.
Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand said heroin isn’t just a crime of people addicted to a substance trying to get a fix. It’s now a “criminal enterprise” affecting families.
“Years ago, when people sold drugs locally, they were supporting a habit,” Weyand explained. “The people that we arrest for drug trafficking, the bulk of them are doing it for the money.”
Weyand said they’re more organized, work in tight-knit groups and have more technology than criminals previously had. And Wilmington, surrounded by Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati as well as Interstate 71 and U.S. 68, is caught in the middle of several drug-trafficking avenues.
“A lot of people’s vision is that if you go out to these rural areas and you can sell drugs, there’s less chance of getting caught,” Weyand said. “Hence why we dedicate a full-time person to drug work and we have two other people who spend half their hours working on localized drug issues.”
Wilmington police have also added technology and employed more creative tactics.
The wire case that targeted the Marlena Park gang, Weyand said, is a perfect example, because police couldn’t buy from those dealers because they weren’t in their group.
Police face many challenges in combating heroin abuse, including some that endanger the lives of those who use heroin.
Weyand said people will shove things into orifices and body cavities or swallow it within a balloon and end up hospitalized.
And sometimes the criminals win.
If a K-9 and officers can’t find it, police can’t strip search someone on the road.
“If they don’t admit to having it, then you don’t have anything,” Weyand said. “They’re not going to tell you that they were carrying it because they needed it.”
But eventually, the long arm of the law catches up.
If they do insert it into an orifice, Weyand said they will get uncomfortable. Sometimes, they fear they might overdose, too, if they swallow it.
“You might only a catch a percentage of them out there, but over time, you’re going to eventually catch someone that’s gotten away with it,” he said.
Weyand acknowledges that many caught for possession need help, but when they find someone with 10 or more caps in their car, he says they’re looking to sell.
Police prioritize those suspected dealers, according to Weyand.
“That’s a sad shape to be in that you’re willing to make $100 today but at the end of the day someone’s son, someone’s daughter, father, mother might overdose,” Weyand said. “When we find someone that has that kind of quantity, not only do we take their car, we take their cellphone.”
Cellphones can often be searched by law enforcement, with a warrant, to reveal who else may have received or sold drugs.
Weyand said heroin is a drug that splits and victimizes families.
Many painkiller prescription abusers are women, Weyand said, who won’t go to their family or community for help. They try to handle it alone after a prescription ends and turn to heroin to cope with their withdrawals, according to Weyand.
“That’s why you see the 50-year-old mothers, who have never been arrested in their life, going and getting heroin,” he said.
Weyand added that family members often learn that loved ones have an addiction issue when they’re arrested for a drug-related offense or they overdose.
On the other hand, Weyand said, some addicts commit crimes to support their habit and often target their loved ones’ cars or money, doubly victimizing the family.
Law enforcement also fights a community that is frequently misinformed.
Wilmington Detective Scott Baker, a member of the Greater Warren County Drug Task Force, said people try home remedies when someone overdoses. Lately, people have tried shoving ice cubes in a person’s mouth or rectum as a way of shocking them out of the overdose.
It doesn’t work, Baker said. Instead, emergency responders are delayed from administering Naloxone, or Narcan, which can save an overdoser’s life.
Baker said people have tried the ice cube method but eventually died, possibly from delayed treatment.
The problem is also on an international scale.
The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy says the United States’ heroin predominately comes from Mexico and Columbia. Although Afghanistan is also a major producer of heroin, the NDCP says it mostly supplies other countries.
“It’s greater than Wilmington,” Weyand said. “It seems like the effort that was put into the coast guard doing interdiction … the volume that they had interdicted from drugs coming from Mexico was phenomenal.”
Now, less is being interdicted, he said, a statement that Clinton County Sheriff Ralph D. Fizer Jr. echoed in a separate interview.
Weyand also faults lowered societal norms and less parenting.
“What wasn’t socially accepted many years ago is more socially accepted now,” Weyand said. “I think that transfers to people doing wrong, the lack of leadership, the lack of morality.”
About 15 years ago, Weyand said, if parents saw their kids do wrong, they took “a hard stance” on it.
Now, he says parents brush it off when children are caught by police drinking or shoplifting.
“Those are the kids that worry me,” Weyand said. “The bar has been lowered for them so far that they can get by with stuff and it’s not seen as wrong.”
Kids, too, are often introduced to drugs by a family member, he said.
“We find ourselves nowadays trying to help people be parents,” he said. “It does (pay off) in some aspects because you try to solve the problem.”
Weyand believes the police’s drug-fighting efforts are paying off.
“The growing trend is if you want heroin or you need heroin, you can’t get it locally,” Weyand said. “It’s not as prevalent in the community as it once was.”
And that means less people will get addicted or overdose from it.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.