By Patric Hedlund
It isn’t just tragedy that links the Mountain Communities to New York and Hollywood this week. It isn’t just early death. We’ve seen our share of young people who grew up here, then were suddenly gone in pointless deaths from drug overdoses—victims of parties with abrupt, ugly ends. But heroin now binds this nation together in one big at-risk bundle of hurt.
Headlines across the country are telling how Philip Seymour Hoffman, a gifted actor and father of three children, died with a needle in his arm in Manhattan last weekend. At the same time, the more sordid details of this story are rushing at us from the small, rural outposts—farm towns in Tennessee, Alabama, Maryland, California—towns with hardworking, decent country kids who tumbled down the addict tunnel and aren’t able to crawl out.
Heroin began appearing more frequently in the Mountain Communities about two years ago. Statistics compiled by Frazier Park substation Sergeant Mark Brown show that abuse of prescription opioid painkillers like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet)—pills that have killed and injured several local youth—dropped steeply from 2010 through 2012.
The Medication Take-Back campaigns here mobilized volunteers with the Mountain Communities Coalition Against Substance Abuse (McCASA). The town responded.
People now flock to the tables in front of Frazier Park Market on Take-Back days. Volunteers work with Kern County Sheriff’s deputies to make a safe place for families to dispose of household medications. They have kept more than 70,000 pills out of the hands of kids and thieves. The program is a success.
Carl Beckett, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) bureau director in Bakersfield, told The Mountain Enterprise on January 24 that the street cost of prescription opioids rose to about $34 a pill. But suddenly, cheap heroin rushed in to fill the void.
It is the supply chain and marketing savvy of Mexican drug cartels that binds our small mountain towns with the big city tragedies which once seemed so far away.
“We are seeing that local distributors have direct contact with Mexico now, and they are arranging for their shipments to come directly to Bakersfield,” Beckett said. DEA interdiction efforts in Los Angeles were so successful at disrupting heroin sales that traffickers now are leapfrogging right over L.A. to use Bakersfield as a principal distribution hub in the southwest. Cheap heroin, about $16 a spot (a couple of grams) is flooding into rural America, creating a fresh new market of addicts in rural towns. The larger story is that opiate addiction and heroin use has become so widespread throughout America.
Brown’s statistics [published in The Mountain Enterprise January 17] show a five-year overview of drug crime investigations in the Mountain Communities. In 2013, heroin-related investigations increased by more than 69%.
“In 2013 alone, Kern County Sheriff’s deputies investigated 28 narcotics crimes here. Most involved heroin possession. The increase appears to be in line with state and county trends,” Brown wrote. At a McCASA meeting, he spoke of “dirty brown-colored powdered heroin not like the ‘black tar’ variety.”
DEA’s Beckett explained “Normally when you see cocoa- colored heroin, that is from Colombia, often smuggled through Mexico.”
Beckett has offered to come talk with the Mountain Communities about what people here can do to be part of the solution. If a civic organization wants to help host a community meeting in March, before Beckett leaves for an assignment out of the country, they can call The Mountain Enterprise at 661.245.3794.
In an interview, Brown said that few tips have been coming from the community lately.
“Abnormally high vehicle traffic at a person’s house at all hours is a clue. But people think if they call we will be busting a door down the next day. That isn’t the way it happens. We have to do a lot of investigation to write up a probable cause search warrant,” Brown said.
“From one report three years ago we took 5-6 people to jail for meth and heroin. But we need people to call us, or use the anonymous tip lines.”
Contact Hedlund at Editor@MountainEnterprise.com
This is part of the February 7, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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