File photo "Injecting heroin" from Wikipedia Commons.
July 9, 2019 – First it was methamphetamine, then it was prescription drugs. Now it's heroin.
“We're starting to see more and more heroin,” Detective Paul Howard said Monday. “Within just the past couple of months, we've started hearing of a few people starting to use it and sell it.”
Howard is a detective with the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department (SCSD). When he came to the department, he had several years' experience working as a paramedic, so he became the one who channels information and resources to fellow-officers regarding drugs.
He sees heroin as just the latest link in a chain reaction of addiction in Tennessee.
“We started off with this huge pill problem – narcotics, opiates, pain pills,” Howard said. “Then there was all this publicity, people overdosing on opiates.”
Government and law enforcement began to crack down on prescription pain pills. Even some doctors were arrested for dispensing too many prescription narcotics.
“It got a lot harder to get prescription pain pills,” Howard explained. “A lot of local doctors will not write prescriptions for any kind of opioids.”
Opioids are drugs derived from the opium poppy. Most of them come from Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan and are funneled into the U.S. through Mexico.
Heroin also is an opioid.
“They're the only kind of drug that creates a physical dependency,” Howard said. “They change the chemical make-up in your brain. For your body to function normally, you have to have it.”
When prescription opioids became hard to get, addicts turned to heroin.
“We created this huge void,” Howard said. “We got all these people hooked on narcotics, and then we made it hard to get. There are just two ways to get off of them. They can go through withdrawals – that's a terrible thing to go through. Or they get onto heroin. It's the only street drug that can fix the problem.”
But because it is a street drug, heroin comes with a greater risk of overdose.
“They don't know how much it's been cut,” Howard explained. “They don't know how strong it is. It's a crap shoot whether they O.D. or not.”
Some of the heroin in Tennessee is even cut with Fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid coming into the country from China.
About a year ago, the SCSD and the Dunlap Police Department (DPD) received a supply of the opioid antidote, Narcan, as part of a grant through the Hamilton County Coalition.
Now, every law enforcement officer in the county carries two doses of Narcan while on duty, and all the ambulances of Puckett EMS are equipped with it, as well. The nasal spray reverses the effects of opiates without causing any side-effects, which means that when in doubt officers can safely use the drug, even if it later turns out that the victim was suffering an overdose of a different drug, or even a medical emergency.
“Heroin depresses all bodily functions, until they just stop,” Howard said. “It slows the heart and the respiration. But heroin is the only drug that causes the pupils of the eye to constrict. They become a pinpoint.”
Det. Paul Howard, of the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department, with several doses of Narcan nasal spray, which is used to counteract a heroin overdose.
In the past year, the SCSD has used Narcan successfully on five occasions to save a life, and the department believes there has been one fatality from heroin, when a man was found unresponsive at a residence in Lone Oak, although the autopsy report has not come in yet.
A multi-agency raid on two homes in Dunlap at the beginning of this month resulted in the arrest of four people – a man and his son for selling heroin, and two juveniles for attempting to buy heroin.
Det. Howard has a few tips for parents wanting to keep their children from falling prey to narcotics addiction:
“Watch for changes in your child's behavior. Be cognizant of who your child has associated with and where they're at.
“A lot of kids are not injecting it; they're smoking it. Be that parent that doesn't turn a blind eye.
“Look in their vehicle, in their bedroom. Watch for glass pipes, needles, bent pieces of tin foil. They will usually have a 'kit' that includes a lighter, a spoon, and a syringe, and maybe some cotton or Q-tips or cigarette filters, to filter it through. Just be aware of what's going on with your children.
“Heroin is a problem that's here, and we're going to have to deal with it.”