Heroin use on the rise in Pettis County

By Nicole Cooke - [email protected]

By Nicole Cooke

[email protected]

Editor’s Note: This one of two articles about heroin in Sedalia. To read about Jessica Williams and her struggle with heroin addiction, click here.

The sign prominently displayed in Wayne Williams’ front yard on Broadway Boulevard has sparked a conversation in West Central Missouri about the growing heroin problem. Just eight months ago the Democrat spoke with Pathways Community Health and local law enforcement, both of which reported very little heroin activity in the area. Now it is on the rise.

An overdose increase

Capt. Don Isaac of the Mid-Mo Drug Task Force, which covers Miller, Morgan, Montieau, Benton, St. Clair and Laclede counties, said they have seen a 30 percent increase in the arrest of heroin users/dealers in the last six months in that seven-county area. Both Isaac and Pettis County Coroner Robert “Skip” Smith said they’ve seen an increase in heroin overdose deaths.

“We’ve had five overdoses in the last year on heroin,” Isaac said by phone Thursday. “No overdoses on (methamphetamine) in the last couple years, mainly heroin is the one they overdose on.

“It’s coming out of St. Louis and Kansas City,” he continued. “It appears that all the task forces in the state are in the middle of an upswing in use, overdoses and distribution of heroin. People are prescribed Oxycontin, hydrocodone, and when people can’t get those anymore, doctors cut them off, they go to pure heroin. They’re not used to that dosage and that’s when they start to overdose. Lack of experience with heroin is causing the overdoses.”

Since January, Smith said he has seen three heroin overdoses and a few methamphetamine-related deaths.

“It seems like we have a lot of drug deaths (recently),” he told the Democrat by phone last week. “In the past it’s generally been prescription drugs, a lot of those overdoses in the past. I would say this is probably escalated a little bit.

“It seems like over the years drug-related deaths have been going up, all drugs, especially prescription drugs. Seems like we see a lot of that, either accidental or suicide.”

Heroin at home

Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond agreed with both Isaac and Smith, noting the county is seeing an “uptick” in heroin overdose deaths.

“The data isn’t there long enough to be able to see the uptick but I think it’s there and obviously with the case of (Jessica Williams’) death. These are extreme cases we see,” Bond said last week. “Whenever you have a death, that tells you the problem is much more extensive than just this one occurrence that happened.”

Bond said they’ve had a few traffic stops result in officers finding heroin since the Democrat last spoke with him in July 2015.

“We will continue to aggressively target any illicit drugs or abuse of prescription drugs in our community,” he said. “It’s on our radar, it’s been on our radar for some time and so we’re watching out for it.”

For the City of Sedalia, however, very little heroin is being seen by the Sedalia Police Department.

“I have not personally encountered heroin in Sedalia,” SPD STING Unit Officer Bradley Arnold told the Democrat last week. “I have received information from informants that they’ve seen this person or that person using heroin.”

SPD has served between 30 and 40 drug-related search warrants over the last year and Arnold said they haven’t recovered any heroin. The one incident where heroin was recovered was in a vehicle that was towed to Sedalia from Raytown.

Arnold said methamphetamine continues to be the most prevalent drug in Sedalia, although officers frequently find marijuana, controlled pills and occassionally cocaine and crack cocaine.

“If we receive word that (heroin is) here I’d definitely like to stop it now, I’d like nothing better than that,” Arnold said. “I’ve been told talking to people from other agencies they have issues with it, such as Jeff City, and that’s not that far away.”

Isaac said SPD may not be seeing heroin yet but “it’s still widespread everywhere, it’s still coming in,” although he noted heroin use in Pettis County is still lower than neighboring counties.

“We haven’t seen near the cases in Pettis County that we have seen in Morgan and Benton,” Isaac said. “There is more heroin surrounding the lake than in Pettis County, even though we know it’s in existence there.

“… Some of it is coming out of Pettis into the other counties, we’ll arrest them in the other areas. It’s all connected,” he continued. “There’s not as much in Pettis as others, but some of our intercepts have been coming out of Pettis going into other counties.”

A ‘widespread’ issue

Bond said there has been a westward expansion with heroin problems across the state of Missouri, starting in St. Louis then making its way to Columbia and Jefferson City areas, most likely due to higher populations. Then it began creeping its way toward Pettis County.

“By looking at things on a statewide basis it was very clear it was coming this way. The progression now has come into Pettis County so we’re seeing it here,” Bond said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not coming from other locations, Kansas City or other metropolitan areas, but when you look at it from a statewide basis, you’re seeing an incident rate of seizures from traffic stops, the incident rate of seizures from search warrants in investigations and then obviously the increase in emergency room visits and ultimately overdoses from heroin. You can see that march westward across the state.”

Isaac noted particular areas get their heroin supply from different cities, such as Morgan County heroin tends to come from St. Louis while Pettis County heroin tends to come from Kansas City. He said “mid-level distributors” get their supply from larger cities and then distribute in their home area.

Isaac said there have been higher problems with heroin in Morgan County, which had four overdose deaths last year. Because the task force has limited manpower, when there are a “tremendous amount of deaths in one county, you try to hone in on that county,” he said.

The task force is working to combat the heroin issue in the area whenever they receive information from arrested users.

“We try to track them down if they know where the heroin is coming in,” he said. “We’re looking more for it than we ever have because of the overdoses. We’re trying to pinpoint the dealers more than anyone; we’ve been successful with some, some we have not.

“It’s a lot more widespread than people realize, just like meth. (Meth is) at an epidemic level — labs are down but arrests are greater than it’s ever been.”

Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.

Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.

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