It started with two detectives trying to understand why young people in Snohomish were dying from heroin overdoses. Over the course of a year, the investigation grew into Operation Black Ice involving an alphabet soup of federal agencies that eventually brought down an elaborate heroin ring and members of a Mexican drug cartel.
The operation helped get a pound of heroin and guns off the streets, but the drug of choice in Snohomish is still heroin, Snohomish Police Chief John Flood told the City Council in January. Methamphetamine is making a comeback, he said.
While the Mexican cartel was taken out, a new group moved in last spring to meet the heroin demand in and around Snohomish, Flood told council members.
“We’re seeing a rebirth of meth in the area,” Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force Lt. Mark Richardson said. He also said he anticipates seeing abuse of subozone start to surface. The drug, similar to a muscle relaxant, is often used by heroin addicts trying to rid their opioid dependence.
“Like all humans, we’re looking for a way to heal ourselves,” Richardson said.
Among drug users, meth and heroin now go hand in hand, Richardson said, as opposed to heroin being the dominant drug during the Black Ice investigation. More than 40 percent of cases Richardson now sees involve a combination of heroin and meth. This change of trend is likely a result of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office’s crackdown on heroin, Richardson said.
The two Snohomish officers credited with starting Black Ice and who were directly responsible for its big bust in April 2012 have asked to keep their names out of print for security reasons for both themselves and their continuing investigations.
“The drug ring in Snohomish was a large one and it was very positive to get that ferreted out and removed, but it’s not the only heroin group operating in Snohomish County by any means,” Richardson said.
Part of Richardson’s job is to watch the progression of drug trends in the region. During the Black Ice investigation, he said his team was seeing more heroin than they had seen in decades.
“Since 2008, heroin overtook all other drugs,” Richardson said. “Before 2002, we didn’t see any black tar or brown heroin, and we hadn’t seen any china white in 20 years.”
Part of the boost in heroin’s popularity was because of a manufacturing change to its gateway drug, Oxycontin. In 2010, the opiate-based pill’s recipe was altered by manufacturer Purdue. Previously, abusers of Oxycontin, a prescription drug, would crush the pill and snort it or smoke it in order to get high. As a way to discourage this type of abuse, Purdue developed a gel coating for the pill that made crushing it nearly impossible.
It was then that heroin use picked up and led the Black Ice detectives on their yearlong goose chase that ended in one of the biggest drug busts in Snohomish County.
“Apparently that is a typical move,” Richardson said of users switching from abusing pain killers to using heroin.
“People who needed an opiate to feed their addiction moved to smokable heroin,” Richardson said.
“Without the needle, the stigma was sort of removed. People who use needles to inject heroin are on a downward spiral in their life, and to avoid that perception, smokable heroin was very popular here for a while.”
But users can’t smoke it for very long and get the same effect, Richardson said. Those same users eventually had to start using needles.
“We expected it to progress slower, but it went all the way to heroin injection in about two years,” Richardson said. “It was very disappointing that we couldn’t get it under control and it moved in that direction.”
Flood said males are more likely to inject heroin than females.
“Needles are dirty,” Flood said. “Girls don’t like to be dirty.”
Snohomish resident Guy Betten has spent time documenting the city’s urban decay in pictures and said he’s noticed several locations inside dilapidated and abandoned houses being used for heroin dens.
“Some people don’t believe that there’s a drug problem in this city,” Betten said.
Author: MADELYN FAIRBANKS
Published Feb. 27, 2013
SNOHOMISH COUNTY NEWS
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