Thirty grams of heroin that was confiscated by the Joliet Police Department's Narcotics Unit would have been worth more than $1,000 on the street. Herion from this batch, picked up earlier this year, was responsible for one death due to an overdose.
OLIET — The area has a drug problem.
"Ninety percent of the crimes in this town are related to drug addiction," said Mike Trafton of the Joliet Police Department's Narcotics Unit.
"There are no super-criminals committing evil here. It's either drug-related, or it turns out to be someone trying to get money so they can go buy drugs."
And it's unlikely this problem's going away any time soon.
"With the intersection of Interstates 55 and 80, we are a hub of drug trafficking," said J., an undercover officer with the Will County sheriff's Gang Suppression Unit. "Tons of drugs and cash come through this area and are stored here."
Since narcotics trafficking is a major source of funding gang activity, the Joliet unit frequently shares information and resources with the sheriff's Gang Suppression Unit.
"It's a good setup because we can help smaller communities who don't have their own drug unit, while they feed us information we might not get trying to watch over the whole county," said J.
Gang Suppression Unit officers estimated that they execute 25 search warrants for drugs annually.
Cocaine has been the area's drug of choice for the last 20 years. Crack is the Joliet unit's No. 1 problem, and powder cocaine ranks second.
"Crack touches every part of this town and crosses every demographic," Trafton said. "It's cooked locally and sold on the street corner in amounts ranging from $10 to $50."
While, as one law enforcement official said, "we're still a cocaine town," another deadly powder is gaining prominence.
"Heroin is making an increase in popularity," Trafton said. "I've no idea why it came back, but it seems to be the trendy drug right now."
Trafton said younger people prefer snorting heroin to injecting it.
"It seems to be used more in the area than it's sold here," Trafton said. "Many (users) tell us they have to go to Chicago to get it."
Cocaine and heroin are the primary targets for the Joliet police Narcotics Unit.
"We give those two a full-court press because of the effect they have on users, on sellers and the whole community."
Data provided by the Will County coroner's office shows the deadliest effect. The number of overdose deaths involving cocaine and/or heroin has doubled in the last two years, from 12 in 2003 to 25 in 2005.
"It's sad," said J. "We see a lot of the same people repeatedly. We can't solve their problems. We arrest them and try and get their suppliers, but because of their addictions, they'll go right out to find someone else."
Technician Larry Kane, a civilian employee with the Joliet Police Department, helps a narcotics officer sort through the evidence room at the downtown station on Friday. The narcotics officer handles a bottle of PCP that was seized recently in Joliet. PCP is not common in Joliet, where cocaine and heroin are more of a problem, authorities said.
The unit is made up of sheriff's deputies as well as officers from Braidwood, Crete, Lockport, New Lenox, Romeoville, Shorewood and the Will County Forest Preserve District. Officers from Elwood, Manhattan and Rockdale are expected to start working with the sheriff's unit later this summer.
By focusing on the potentially deadly drugs, the Narcotics Unit isn't able to pay much attention to another illegal drug that also is considered prevalent in the area.
"Marijuana users are not a target," Trafton said. "They should know it's illegal, but with that drug, we're much more concerned with dealers than users."
Officers have seen an increase in the misuse of prescription drugs, especially among young people, said J.
Trafton added that ecstasy use has become popular with younger users. "We've found it's more prevalent than we thought," he said.
The Gang Suppression Unit also has noticed a recent resurgence in the popularity of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug found in certain types of mushrooms.
"We've found it's being made into a candy, which really surprises me because the taste is supposedly terrible," said J.
Not every drug is popular in the area, however.
"We don't see LSD or angel dust much anymore," Trafton said, "and we've been very lucky that meth (methamphetamine) hasn't really surfaced in the area."
"Unfortunately," he added, "it's only a matter of time."
Tackling the problem
Trafton said it is difficult to make undercover buys, and even when they are successful, the progress is minimal.
"Unfortunately, the moment we get a dealer off the street, the void is filled immediately by somebody else, and we have to start working our way up the ladder all over again," he said.
"The only way we can get rid of drugs is through partnerships with the community," said J.
"We do a lot of work, but the main reason things happen is because someone of the 95 percent of the good people out there calls to give us information. Someone provides the tools so we can help them clean up their neighborhood."