Heroin seen as a top threat in Wicomico, Somerset counties
Health clinics, police agencies battle 'epidemic'
SALISBURY -- In 2008, 25 percent of law enforcement agencies in the mid-Atlantic, New Jersey/New York and New England regions reported heroin as the No. 1 drug on their streets, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Heroin seems to be the drug of choice in only about 4 percent of the rest of the nation. With a high prevalence of the drug found in northeastern states, the Eastern Shore of Maryland is no exception.
Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis said Wicomico and Somerset counties list heroin as their biggest drug threat, meaning that in recent years here on the Shore, the heroin problem has advanced past the trend stage.
"I'll be honest with you," Lewis said. "It is not a trend in the area; heroin abuse and use has been, quite frankly, out of control in this area for quite some time. It is not new, we've seen a tremendous increase in the last three and a half to four years."
Linda McClung, director of Peninsula Addiction Services, insists the problem is not heroin alone, but other opiates, such as OxyContin and oxycodone. The effects, according to Bill McClung, Peninsula Addiction Services clinical coordinator, are almost all exactly the same.
McClung calls the problem an epidemic. Lewis agrees.
"Heroin distribution crosses all racial and ethnic boundaries," Lewis said. "It is being used by everyone. It is widely preferred by a number of kids, middle-aged adults and even older adults."
No One Answer
As for how and why heroin took root in the area, there is no one answer. In the past, the No. 1 drug in Wicomico County was cocaine, according to the Sheriff's Office. The dealers saturated the market, leaving little room for continued growth in the cocaine business, which opened up a market for heroin, Lewis said. As for its more recent surge in popularity, Lewis says the economy may be playing a role as well.
"In these economic times people are getting depressed and losing their jobs and they are turning to drugs," he said.
Salisbury Police Chief Allan Webster says the increased popularity can also be linked to the drug's improved quality.
"It's a lot better than it used to be," he said. "It used to be a drug that people, for the most part, stayed away from because you had to use a needle to do it. People today are snorting it and using the drug in various other ways that don't require a needle. So take away that needle stigma, and it is drawing a much larger crowd."
The McClungs think other recent events may be playing a role as well. Several months ago, two local doctors were charged and arrested with illegally distributing opiates.
"When that happened, it dried up that supply and the other physicians in the area started tightening up on their prescriptions of opiates," McClung said. "That made it a really lucrative business for the drug dealers to come in from out of the area with heroin."
Salisbury dentist Dr. David Michael Fisher was indicted in February on 169 charges related to prescription fraud. The charges included multiple counts of obtaining a drug by fraud, possession of forged prescriptions and controlled dangerous substances obtained by forging or altering a prescription.
Fisher was accused of writing prescriptions for hydrocodone, diazepam, cephalexin and clindamycin, according to court documents. Fisher was sentenced in July to 179 days in jail and three years probation.
Fisher's indictment was less than a month after Dr. Charles Olufemi Folashade, 48, of Salisbury was indicted on 16 charges after allegedly prescribing strong painkillers to undercover officers.
Folashade, who worked at Arcadia Medical Center and the Walk-in Clinic, was indicted after being accused of distributing oxycodone, Suboxone and Xanax. As part of a plea agreement, Folashade relinquished his medical license in June in exchange for having his charges placed on the inactive stet docket.
The Shore's Urban Crust
According to Lewis, most of the heroin coming into the county is coming out of Baltimore, but it also comes from Philadelphia and Washington, and as far as New York.
"Salisbury sits at the intersection of the north-south and the east-west corridor," Wicomico County Health Officer Lori Brewster said of the city's major intersection of Routes 13 and 50. "So any type of drug trafficking goes right through the city."
Regardless of where the drugs are coming from, they are coming, Lewis said. And, typically, where there is a prevalence of drug use, there are higher crime rates across the board, he said.
Local clinics and drug centers are doing all they can as well. The Wicomico County Health Department has seen its methadone program rise from 40 members in 2008 to 60 this year. Methadone is a chemical substitute designed to mimic heroin, yet nullify its addictive qualities. But as Peninsula Addiction Services says, the scope of the problem is much greater than the number of addicts in programs across the county.
"(Addiction) is a family disease -- it affects everyone in the family," McClung said. "We believe everyone needs to get treatment together."
In case of an abusive or addictive situation, the Sheriff's Office and Peninsula Addiction Services encourage friends and family members to get involved and ask for help as soon as possible.
BY COLIN MURFREE • STAFF WRITER • SEPTEMBER 27, 2009