Lexington Assembles Task Force To Deal With Heroin

Jul 12, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- There have been 28 heroin overdoses in Lexington so far this year - six more than all of 2012 and more than five times the number two years ago.  Those figures have prompted officials in Lexington to form a task force to deal with a spike in heroin overdoses in the city.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the task force has implemented several initiatives to stem the problem. The programs focus on public education as well as training for law enforcement and emergency workers dealing with overdoses.

Statewide, there were 456 criminal cases containing some type of heroin charge in circuit courts in 2011. That number rose to 921 in 2012. In district court, there were 679 heroin related cases in 2011 and 1,784 in 2012.

In Lexington, law enforcement officials on every level - from local to federal - are meeting once a month and reviewing cases.

Heroin does not discriminate, Lexington fire battalion chief Brian Wood said.

"We'll pick them up everywhere, from the street downtown to out in a very nice affluent subdivision," Wood said. "I've seen it across all spectrums."

Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason said the task force first met March 8, after a roughly two-week period when there was a spike in overdose deaths.

When the pills became harder to get and therefore more expensive on the street, addicts turned to heroin as their drug of choice. The vast majority of people who were addicted to prescription drugs are now looking for opiates, said Michele McCarthy, the government liaison for SelfRefind, a physician-owned outpatient treatment center.

"We're seeing people who have never used heroin before. We're seeing use of it by teenagers and people in their early 20s. They're skipping straight to injection use of it," she said.

A single 80 milligram pill of the painkiller OxyContin can sell for $80 to $100, McCarthy said. With heroin, dealers offer "buy 10 bags, get one free," she said. A bag generally costs $9 or $10.

"The same amount they spent on one pill before, they can get an amount of heroin to keep them high for one day," she said.

Mason, the public safety commissioner, said police think a heroin pipeline has developed from Detroit to Lexington.

"Our investigative force is working very hard to try and stem the tide of incoming heroin here in this community," Mason said.

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said the heroin problem "snuck up" on Lexington. Larson said he was going to recommend to the task force that "people have to begin to treat these drug overdose deaths initially as a potential crime scene."

Larson said representatives of every segment of the community that deals with users and dealers must work together if drug overdoses are to be prosecuted as homicides.

In terms of other initiatives, one arm of the task force is composed of professionals focusing on prevention, education and treatment.

Task force members are working on a treatment directory that will be posted on the Mayor's Alliance on Substance Abuse website. Mason said there is a wide array of treatment options available in Lexington, including residential, outpatient and faith-based programs. Treatment specialists are designing pocket resource cards for first-responders in the hope that addicts and their families will follow up after the emergency has passed.