Capital Gazette Series Highlights The Impact Of Heroin in Anne Arundel County

In a series of articles the Capital Gazette explored how Anne Arundel County is “Fighting the Rising Tide of Heroin”.

One article took a look at the rise of heroin in the county and law enforcement efforts to stem the tide:

Last fall county police launched Operation HOPE, or Heroin Overdose Prevention and Eradication, targeting heroin use at the southern edge of the county, where the agency has seen the biggest increase.

Under HOPE, police began focusing on commercial areas where drug transactions often take place. A heroin addict, unlike someone who buys marijuana and goes home to smoke it, will use the drug as soon as it’s acquired.

Police also are cruising parking lots looking for idle people. A number of heroin overdoses have occurred in public parking lots.

“What we’ve found is where hand-to-hand transactions take place, that’s where use is going to take place,” [county P0lice Chief Kevin] Davis said. “It’s almost an eerie immediacy to it.”

Police have expanded the HOPE strategy throughout the county.

A second article delved into the link between prescription drugs and heroin:

“We are seeing a whole new subculture of addicts due to the misuse of prescription drugs and opiates,” said Gary Tuggle, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Baltimore District Office.

Between 2011 and 2013, the number of heroin-related deaths in Maryland increased 87.8 percent. During that time, opioid prescription-related deaths dropped by 7.6 percent, according to statistics from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

With 214 heroin overdoses this year in the county, another 47 people were reported to have overdosed on another opioid — at least nine fatally, according to county police.

The new breed of heroin user includes working professionals, as well as college and high school students who begin abusing prescription drugs that they acquired legally.

Once left without a legal way to get pain prescriptions, users will often turn to cheaper street-level heroin, Tuggle said.

A capsule of heroin costs around $13 — as opposed to Oxycontin, which can cost around $80 a pill, or Percocet, at around $25 a pill, said county police spokesman Lt. T.J. Smith.

Another portion of the series focused on the Drug Courts in Anne Arundel County:

The group is participating in Drug Court, an intensive supervision program that aims to reduce drug abuse and criminal behavior in nonviolent drug offenders.

The program used to be strictly for offenders who violated their probation. Those who completed it often were spared considerable jail time.

This summer the program expanded. All nonviolent drug offenders are now eligible, whether they violated probation or not.

The expansion was part of an effort within the court system to combat the growing heroin problem in Anne Arundel County.

“We’re addressing a significant issue in the community that affects all classes of people,” said Wachs, the Circuit Court judge who has presided over the program for two years.

State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, a prosecutor in the county for more than 20 years, said heroin cases used to be rare. Over the last 18 months to two years, the State’s Attorney’s Office has seen an “influx” of heroin cases at the District and Circuit Court levels, she said.

“It wasn’t something you saw,” Leitess said. “Now it’s so commonplace it’s frightening.”

The series also included a guest column from a local treatment provider stressing the importance of treatment services:

Local treatment centers like Samaritan House are on the front lines, and we are seeing a marked increase in clients battling heroin and opiates. In our facility, over 70 percent of clients fall in this category.

The problems of addiction go beyond the addict and his family. Untreated addiction can be a staggering expense in health care and law enforcement. Every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs yields a savings of about $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice and health care costs. Treating the disease of addiction breaks the expensive emergency room-jail-court cycle in which addicts are often caught.

Finally in an editorial the Capital Gazette stressed a need for a broad response to heroin use. The editorial noted that there may not always be a heroin issue, but there will always be the broader issue of addiction and the need for treatment facilities and anti-drug education.

For more information read the full articles in the series: