Heroin use on the rise in Shelby County

After years of having no heroin arrests or deaths in Shelby County, 2010 has shown a rising number of both, according to the Shelby County Sheriff’s office.

Lt. Chris George, commander of the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force, said in the last nine months, the task force has had several heroin arrests.

“In the past we haven’t had any sort of contact with heroin,” George said. “It’s just strange to go years with no contact at all and over the last few months see an increase.”

George said the increase is likely due to heroin’s increasingly easy access. He said brown tar heroin has been coming in from Mexico and is extremely dangerous. The task force had been focusing on methamphetamines and is now trying to tackle both meth and heroin in the county, he said.

“I was thinking we were going to concentrate on meth and all of a sudden I have investigators coming in and saying “Heroin, heroin, heroin.” We have two monsters here,” George said. “Not only is meth very addictive, but heroin can kill you in one dose.”

Shelby County coroner Diana Hawkins said deaths due to heroin have also increased. She saw three heroin-related deaths within a few months of each other, she said.

“It’s like heroin is making a comeback,” she said. “One guy who we ran a call on, the needle was still in his arm. That’s how fast it can kill.”

The problem is the purity of the drug, George said. Some users may build up a tolerance to a less-pure version and then one dose of a new pure dose will kill them.

Dirty needles are also a danger to both the user and the task force, George said.

For now, the task force will continue to focus on both meth and heroin.

“We have to choose our battles every day based on the potential danger to the community,” George said. “But to deny that heroin’s here would be irresponsible on our behalf.”