Agent: Heroin not just big-city issue

The Jefferson County Drug Task Force has seized 403 grams of heroin so far this year, an increase from the 265 grams that were seized for all of 2013.

“It is all we investigate now. We have an occasional pill or cocaine case, but 95 percent of our cases are heroin possession or trafficking,” said Jason Hanlin of the drug task force.

He said heroin hit the area around 2007. At the time, heroin addicts were driving to Pittsburgh to get their supply. Dealers from Chicago then infiltrated Steubenville and local addicts didn’t have to travel far.

Hanlin said there is a big difference in the strength of the heroin between Steubenville and Pittsburgh. He explained the Pittsburgh heroin is about 15 percent to 30 percent pure. The heroin being brought in from Chicago is about 70 percent to 80 percent pure, he said. The purity also is a reason for the overdoses.

Hanlin said a lot of recovering addicts have a relapse and then try the same amount of heroin they were using with the less pure heroin.

“The purity level is so much higher now and their body can’t handle it,” he said.

Hanlin said the crackdown on the pain pills about five years ago created many of today’s heroin addicts.

“People were left high and dry with a prescription pill addiction. They were cut off cold and their body had no choice. It is the same story with every jurisdiction,” he said.

Hanlin said there was a time when crack cocaine was the problem.

“You can’t get it anymore,” he said. “We barely see crack cocaine. It has been months since we purchased crack cocaine off the streets.”

The drug task force in 2010 seized 239 grams of crack cocaine, but only 42 grams in 2013. For prescription medication, the drug task force seized 49 pills in 2010 and 193 pills in 2013. The number peaked at 361 in 2012.

Hanlin said there is a misconception that heroin is cheap in Steubenville.

The average dose – about 0.2 gram – costs $50. Hanlin said most addicts have a twice-a-day habit. “That’s why there are thefts and robberies,” he said.

Hanlin said the price of heroin in Akron, Cleveland and Columbus is in the $10 to $15 range. “It has remained $50 here for the past several years,” he said.

Hanlin said there is another misconception about heroin. Many people see it as only a back-alley urban situation. “It is everywhere. It is in every village and city here and the surrounding counties.” he said.

Hanlin said most of the people arrested for possession of heroin are white males and females between the ages of 17 and 30. The drug task force and Steubenville Police have made 80 heroin-related arrests so far this year. But Hanlin notes that 75 percent of those arrested are not from Steubenville. About half are from Weirton, Follansbee and Wellsburg. The drug task force recorded 45 arrests in 2010, but the arrests increased to 119 in 2013.

Hanlin said he is worried about where the heroin problem is going in the years ahead.

“It is not a problem law enforcement can handle by themselves. We make arrests, but, as long as we have addicts buying heroin, traffickers will replace traffickers. Making arrests doesn’t slow it down,” he said.

Hanlin said it will take law enforcement, drug rehabilitation agencies, doctors and hospitals to combat the problem.

“We will continue to have the problem. We need to get addicts who want to get better or go somewhere else.”

Hanlin said the profit margin for the heroin traffickers is large. They are buying heroin for $80 a gram in Chicago and selling it for as high as $500 in Steubenville.