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An old drug is sweeping through Louisville and portions of northern Kentucky, and local officials worry it soon will become a problem in Hardin County.
Kentucky State Police analyzed 1,074 samples of heroin during the first three quarters of 2012, marking an increase of more than 100 percent since 2010 when 451 heroin samples were recorded.
In northern Kentucky, heroin-related cases now exceed those involving pain pills, according to KSP.
Locally, prosecutors encountered four heroin-related cases the week of Feb. 11-15, Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young said.
About half of those cases were reported to police after the defendant overdosed, and as of Wednesday, two defendants have been indicted in 2013 for heroin possession, according to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
“You can see the faucet starting to drip,” Young said. “I saw the same thing back when I was in Louisville with meth. You heard about it and then you’d start to see one or two possession cases and then you’d start to see more and more and more.”
Young, who previously worked in the Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, said he’s spoken with Louisville police who are seeing a surge of heroin cases in the city.
With the exception of methamphetamine, drug trends typically originate in larger cities and spread out from there, he said.
Detective Steve Lowery with the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force said investigators began encountering heroin within the last six months, particularly in Radcliff and northern portions of the county.
Because Attorney General Jack Conway and police have cracked down on prescription pain medicine such as Opana and Oxycontin, Young said pills now are more expensive and harder to come by, leaving addicts searching for another opiate.
A gram of heroin is about $300, Lowery said. One gram of heroin provides four to six hits, according to KSP.
By contrast, Lowery said one Opana pill could cost as much as $95.
A current trend among heroin users, Young said, is “gravel heroin.”
“It looks just like gravel and identifying it without a dog is (difficult),” the prosecutor explained.
Lowery said he has seen one case involving gravel heroin in Hardin County but expects the trend is coming to the area.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Carr said heroin poses a high risk for disease because of the use and sharing of needles. He added the drug’s overdose potential is “extremely high.”
Task Force Detective Clinton Turner said one of the first heroin cases reported in Hardin County involved a man who was being treated for an overdose at Hardin Memorial Hospital.
Hardin County Coroner Dr. Bill Lee said no fatal overdoses have been recorded in 2013. However, he said officials encountered one heroin-related fatality in 2012.
According to Lee, an 18-year-old White Mills woman was found dead last year and the autopsy revealed a heroin overdose contributed to her death, he said.
The coroner said heroin produces a “euphoria” that lasts about four to six hours, but the more it’s used, the more the user has to inject to reach that high.
A heroin overdose causes respiratory depression, Lee said, meaning breathing slows down and ultimately causes the user to slip into a coma.
In addition to the disease risk, Carr said there also is a potential for an increase in crime.
The majority of crimes in the county already are drug related, he said. Because of the strength of a heroin addiction, Carr said the propensity for crime is in “hyper-overdrive.”
“They’re either laid up stoned on heroin for a couple of days or they’re out stealing trying to get money to go do it again,” Carr said. “There’s no in between.”
Turner said with a new drug being introduced, there also is a risk for a “turf battle” among local drug dealers.
“What will end up happening is there’s going to be a turf (war) as far as ‘he’s going to deal here and I’m going to deal here,’” Turner said. “There’s ultimately going to end up being some altercation.”
Young said the addiction to heroin is “nothing like I’ve ever seen” and he believes the number of heroin-related cases will grow exponentially in the coming months in Hardin County.
“It’s here,” he said, “and it’s just now starting to catch up with the court system.”
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or email@example.com.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. It is a “downer” or depressant that affects the brain’s pleasure systems and interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pain.