The number of cases involving heroin and methadone is on the rise and causing some concern for law enforcement agencies in Alamance County.
We are starting to see this stuff much more," said Randy Jones, Alamance County Sheriff's Department spokesman. "It's becoming much more common place."
The Burlington Police Department is also seeing more heroin on the streets and more methadone-related offenses, which frequently involve forged prescriptions, said Burlington police Assistant Chief Greg Seel.
On Aug. 7, the sheriff's department executed a search warrant at a home on Mountain Trail in Snow Camp where undercover officers had bought .4 grams of heroin, 32 units of dilaudid and 62 units of methadone in the last few months. Six people were charged with several drug offenses, including trafficking.
Last week, a man was stopped on a mo-ped for reckless driving and deputies allegedly found 2.2 grams of heroin on him during a search along with two needles — one loaded with a clear liquid substance.
There also have been at least four deaths in the county in the last year in which the state Medical Examiner's office in Chapel Hill determined the cause to be methadone toxicity, according to toxicology reports, and "dozens of overdoses" that didn't result in deaths but that authorities link to methadone or heroin, Jones said.
In the death of 24-year-old Ashley Roland of Mebane, who died from a methadone overdose on Dec. 26, sheriff's investigators initially thought she had died from a heroin overdose. The state Medical Examiner later determined she had died from methadone toxicity.
Jennifer Kay Porter, 27, and April Gail Gaddis, 29, have been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly injecting her with the methadone.
Angela Cates, 23, was found unconscious in Joe Albright's bed at his home on N.C. 87 on April 3, 2008. She was later pronounced dead at Alamance Regional Medical Center. At the time, Albright was charged because authorities found parts of a liquor still, as well as 35 gallons of whiskey mash and more than four gallons of white liquor. He has since been charged with several sexual offenses that don't involve Cates.
But authorities did investigate Albright in connection to Cates' death. He was never charged. Albright, who called 911 after he discovered she wasn't breathing, told the Times-News in July 2008 that he didn't give Cates methadone or oxycodone.
In 2007, there were 901 cases of unintentional poisoning in the state. Of those, 80 percent were a result of overdosing on prescription medications, heroin, cocaine, methadone and pain killers such as oxycodone. That number rose by about 100 in 2008, said Scott Proescholdbell, the head of the injury epidemiology unit at the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The reason methadone deaths seem to be popping up more is that people are literally poisoning themselves from taking too much," Proescholdbell said.
FOR YEARS, methadone was commonly known for its use in clinics to treat people with addiction. That form of methadone, which is usually injected, is fairly controlled, Proescholdbell said. Methadone also comes in pill form and is used in pain management. Some people accidentally take too much. Others buy and sell it for illicit use. When users take too much or mix it with other narcotics or alcohol, it can be lethal.
More and more doctors are prescribing it," Proescholdbell said. "When you have a larger number of prescriptions out there, you have more potential for abuse and misuse."
One of the problems law enforcement faces when it comes to heroin is users only need a little to get high.
It's such a small quantity for a dosage unit that you can hide it anywhere," Jones said. "It's tougher to find than other drugs."
Law enforcement has to find 10 pounds of marijuana in order to charge someone with trafficking the drug. Someone only has to possess four grams of heroin to be charged with trafficking, Jones said.
Another reason there seems to be a resurgence in heroin sales is that it costs the user a lot more.
There is a higher dollar value in it, and it's easier to smuggle," Jones said. "You can make more money off a chain purse full of heroin than you can a backpack full of marijuana."
Aside from being extremely addictive, heroin is dangerous because dealers have been known to mix it with other things. Users never know exactly what they are buying.
I've seen it mixed with battery acid," Jones said. "You never know what the purity is. You never know what the cut is, and you never know what the strength is."
August 14, 2009
The Times News
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