By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
Heroin, a drug that used to be associated with 1970s rock stars and inner cities, has crept into Madison County recently, leading to a law enforcement “nightmare,” according to local officials.
“Heroin is dominating the market right now,” Richmond Police Chief Larry Brock said Thursday. “It has absolutely taken over.”
With increased legislation in Kentucky and elsewhere that has squeezed the “pill mill pipeline,” opiate addicts are turning to heroin as a cheaper and faster-acting high. Drug gangs in Detroit and other northern cities have seized this opportunity to bring their drugs south to sell at a higher profit, Brock said.
This has had fatal consequences as overdose deaths have skyrocketed in Madison County, according to county officials.
Drug gang operations
Heroin makes its way into the U.S. mostly through Mexico and Central America, and Detroit has become a major import hub, according to Brock.
The heads of drug-dealing operations in Detroit and other northern cities have sent hundreds of their dealers south into places such as Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
The key to taking down a trafficking operation is to remove the person in charge, according to the RPD’s head narcotics officer, Sgt. Rodney Tudor.
“You work to dismantle, not disrupt,” Tudor said. “That’s how you take care of the problem.”
However, this strategy is proving difficult because the drug bosses do not leave Detroit.
“You can arrest and arrest, but they’ll keep sending (the dealers) down,” Tudor said.
One strategy the various drug gangs use is to have the multiple lower-level suppliers they send south go by one nickname, making it difficult for officers to track them down.
“The problem we’re seeing with the heroin is there’s so many dealers,” Tudor said. “... It’s hard for local law enforcement to decipher the hierarchy.”
It’s a “nightmare” for law enforcement, Tudor added.
Local residents aiding dealers
Out-of-town dealers have been able to infiltrate Madison County with the help of local addicts, according to Tudor and Brock.
“We will prosecute these people every time,” Brock said.
In late January, 22-year-old Richmond resident Melissa D. Wolke was charged with criminal facilitation to heroin and oxycodone trafficking. Officers say Wolke helped a Detroit man, 19-year-old Deonte M. Long, rent a room at the Care Free Suites on Colby Taylor Drive.
In that room, officers reported finding 14.4 grams of heroin and 386 oxycodone pills.
Madison County residents are providing places for the dealers to stay, renting motel rooms and cars for them and providing transportation to and from Detroit, Brock said.
Tudor acknowledged that local drug addicts often help the Detroit dealers out of fear, because they are financially indebted to them.
“These dealers won’t get a foothold if people don’t help,” Brock said.
He pointed out that heroin was a major drug problem in the 1970s but slowly faded to the background as cocaine and crack hit the scene in the 1980s, followed by prescription pill and methamphetamine addiction.
“This is a new generation (of users) with no experience with heroin,” Brock said.
Trafficking brings violence
In addition to deadly drugs, the suppliers from Detroit often bring down their own brand of violence, according to Brock.
“The culture of violence they bring is different then the level of violence we’re accustomed to here,” the chief said.
Last week, police arrested 44-year-old Robert C. Cobb Jr. after receiving a report that he had assaulted a woman. Inside the home on Brandy Lane, officers discovered 7 ounces of heroin, 136 oxycodone pills, marijuana and more than $20,000, according to the report.
A Detroit man arrested late last year in connection with heroin trafficking and the alleged kidnapping of a woman, was indicted this week on a charge of beating another Madison County jail inmate.
Erroll Johnson, 24, also has an active Michigan warrant charging him with assault with intent to murder and discharging a firearm in or at a building.
Combating the problem
At a time when federal and state law enforcement grants are lean and funding for more staff is close to nonexistent, Madison County law enforcement is working closely with federal and state agencies to learn how to take down these heroin drug operations.
The FBI in Michigan has helped Richmond police identify many of the dealers coming here, Tudor said.
“We have a pretty strong relationship with federal agencies” including the DEA and ATF, Brock said.
The Kentucky State Police also help local officers get intelligence on heroin traffickers, and the RPD works with Berea police and Madison County Sheriff’s deputies in arresting the dealers, Tudor added.
“We talk daily with people who work in drug enforcement in Madison County,” Tudor said.
Covert operations using undercover officers and “controlled” drug buys also are employed to gather evidence against the drug traffickers, Tudor said.
Ultimately, Brock acknowledged the key to combating heroin-trafficking in Richmond and Madison County isn’t just on the shoulders of law enforcement, but also takes work on the part of the state and federal justice systems and drug treatment programs.
“When addicts get to the point of saying ‘I need help,’ there must be treatment available,” Brock said.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.