ST JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County Sheriff’s officials see an increase in heroin use and addition and fear the drug will become the new cocaine, not only nationwide, but locally.
Sheriff David Shoar said heroin is making a vigorous comeback. A few recent arrests have been made for heroine procession and trafficking, including the arrest of 39-year-old Wayne Pellicer on June 10, after officers found pills containing an unknown substance, baggies containing heroin residue and guns.
Six days later, 42-year-old Holdstead Moody and 24 year-year-old Baron Long were arrested after officers found 5 grams of brown powder on Moody and 7.1 grams on Long. Field tests found that the brown powder was heroin.
Law enforcement officials aren't the only ones taking notice. A local rehab facility said it’s also seen a major increase in people seeking help for heroin addiction. Tracy Langston, the director of nursing at EPIC Behavioral Healthcare, said in September 2015, 75 percent of their clients were being treated for alcohol abuse and 25 percent for opiate use.
Now, it's split 50-50. She said 8 percent of the opiate use is heroin related, but the overall use of IV drugs is a big problem.
Shoar believes with the crackdown on pill mills, people have turned to heroin.
"People like me were saying, 'What’s going to happen when we tamper down on the opiates?' Addicts don’t just immediately get cured and say, 'Hey, they passed a law. We can’t do drugs,'" Shoar said. "People like us knew that they were going to be switching seats on the Titanic, and that’s exactly what they did."
Shoar said police are working to update their computer software to better track heroin usage. They also are investing in a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose and save lives. But his best advice is that anyone who needs help should get it.
"I’m seeing this IV Dilaudid and IV heroin," Langston said. "Heroin is like the new drug of choice for some people and also used as an alternative drug for some people."
She said people who can’t afford cocaine often turn to heroin. She said they do a urine drug screen when clients first check in.
"Usually, we see track marks on them," Langston said. "Even if they don’t tell us they are using intravenously, there’s signs that they are using. Sometimes, it's in the AC or what they call the antecubital (area inside the elbow). Where they have track marks: in between their fingers, sometimes right here on their wrists. A lot of them use under their watch, so no one in the community knows they are using. Especially if they have a job.
"I’ve had clients come in and say they have parties in the break room at work. It’s almost shocking to hear, unless you hear it a number of times and I’ve heard it enough to believe that, truly, it goes on."
Langston said people often get into IV drug abuse because of mental disease. Prior abuse as children can trigger use.
People still have access to pills but they may not be taken by mouth, Langston said. She’s hearing many people are crushing them and injecting them through a needle, making the high comes more quickly. But it’s also short-lived. She said this leads to people using several times a day.
The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office has been in direct coordination with EPIC Behavioral Healthcare, often because they are the primary source of information on substance abuse, including what trends they see and what types of drugs people are using.
"Some of the side effects can be nausea, vomiting, diarrhea," Langston said. "They can have severe stomach cramping. They usually don’t have an appetite. They can’t eat because they’re nauseated. Some of them have night sweats and tremors. They are restless because they can’t sleep. It’s a number of things that are totally miserable when they get to the point of withdrawal."
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said the problem is increasing everywhere. The use of heroin has gone up.
"From the addicts, you have increased prostitution, thefts -- so they can get the money to buy the heroin," Smith said. "You also have violent clashes with the dealers because there’s competition to sell to the users. When people are using heroin, it has more containments and other additives in it. It could clog their arteries, causing problems with liver, lungs, kidneys -- a lot of internal problems that can happen when you’re using street drugs like this."
"Heroin has made a vigorous comeback, if you will, in the United States," Shoar said. "Not just here in the state of Florida, but parts of the Northeast and parts of Appalachia, and just recently we’ve been seeing an uptick in heroin usage in St. Johns County, and I suspect the surrounding counties are experiencing the same increase."
Shoar said in his 35 years of law enforcement, he can't remember heroin being an issue.
"What’s so troubling is that it’s become very easy to get," he said. "A lot easier than opiates because you had to go through doctors or however you went and got them. It’s a lot more potent, and it’s cheaper."