Heroin deaths on rise in ’09

Across Charlotte, ‘in every neighborhood’, gangs linked to Mexican drug traffickers target teens, officials warn.

By Franco Ordoñez
fordonez@charlotteobserver.com
Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

Heroin overdoses and deaths in Charlotte have more than tripled since last year, a concern to authorities who want to prevent a repeat of the city’s drug battles of the early 1990s.

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An officer examines black-tar heroin at the Charlotte- Mecklenburg Police Department.

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Local officials are particularly concerned that gangs, most of which are connected to Mexican drug organizations, are aggressively targeting teenagers.

“We’re talking at the Arboretum. We’re talking at Northlake mall. We’re talking in downtown Charlotte,” Mayor Pat McCrory said Tuesday, when the new statistics were released. “We’re talking in every neighborhood. Both private and public schools. This is a serious issue.”

In 2008, there were eight heroin overdoses in Charlotte and three deaths from heroin, according to police statistics. This year, with two months to go, there are already 33 overdoses and 10 deaths. And seizures of heroin have quadrupled from 1,075 grams to 4,989 grams.

McCrory and Sheriff Chipp Bailey said they have discussed more drug testing in the county jail to better understand the extent of drug use.

McCrory said authorities need the public’s help to keep the city from a repeat of 1993, when a crack cocaine epidemic help push the city’s homicide total to a record 129 people.

Officials say they have yet to see an increase in drug-related violence this year, but they fear that could change as drug violence along the border spills over into the United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment identified Charlotte as one of 230 cities where Mexican traffickers “maintain drug distribution networks” to sell cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines and heroin.

Capt. Mike Adams of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s vice and narcotics unit said he could not estimate how many heroin gangs, or drug cells, operate in Charlotte, but said police have shut down seven cells since June.

“The majority are Mexican,” he said. “All the black-tar heroin is from Mexico.”

Black-tar heroin, made from poppies in western Mexico, gets its name from its color and texture. Police attribute its rise to its cheaper price and the well-run distribution networks developed by Mexican cartels.

In an investigation dubbed “Operation Dirty Girl 3,” police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested four men on July 30 and seized more than a pound of black-tar heroin.

From his bar less than a half mile from Starmount Elementary School, Carlos Roman Villanueva sold black-tar heroin to clients throughout South Charlotte, including in Ballantyne, according to court records.

Police say they caught Roman after he purchased $22,560 worth of heroin from a supplier.

After arresting the supplier with the money, police visited Roman. They asked for the drugs.

“He went behind the bar, entered the kitchen and returned to provide 557 grams of black-tar heroin,” James Long, of the CMPD vice and narcotics unit, said in an affidavit.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said the traffickers are selling to all demographics, but increasingly are promoting the drug to teenagers who are less fearful of harder drugs.

“Young kids, 17-, 18-year-olds … are a part of their whole marketing strategy,” Monroe said.

Addicts say black tar is easy to find in Charlotte. At $12.50 a dose, it’s about half the price of other available forms.

Adams said the drug operations are set up better than some legitimate businesses. They have clear divisions of labor, sales goals and contingency plans to keep the operation running if one of the distributors is arrested.

“I, and many others, had considered heroin to be a drug of the past,” McCrory said. “It has now returned to the streets, and homes throughout Charlotte: North, South, East and West.”

If you have information that could lead to the arrest of someone possessing or dealing heroin in Charlotte, call the CMPD Vice Hotline at 704-336-3110.

Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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