Of all drug-related deaths in Oregon during the last 10 years, cocaine and methamphetamine deaths have gone down, with cocaine deaths decreasing by 43 percent.
But there is one drug that continues to slowly climb.
That drug is heroin, and of the four drug deaths in Clatsop County in 2012, it was responsible for three, according to newly released statistics from the Oregon state medical examiner.
“Last year we saw, among the drugs that were seized through either search warrants or controlled buys, 60 percent was heroin and 40 percent was meth,” said Detective Mike Smith of the Clatsop County Drug Task Force.
“We’ve had a lot of heroin cases and I think the quantities would have been greater, but users go through their product so quickly, it’s not uncommon for a dealer to make multiple trips to Portland to restock. You’ll see foot traffic waiting for a delivery in the middle of the night, when you’re watching a house, and they’ll wait in the glow of their cell phones and their cigarettes. But within an hour people quit coming because the dealer runs out.”
Compared with other counties in the state, four deaths may not seem like a lot. Heroin was responsible for 80 deaths in Multnomah County out of 103 drug-related deaths.
Statewide, drug deaths overall have declined by 7 percent.
In 2012, the drug task force arrested 101 individuals for drug-related incidents. However, not all end up charged or in jail, Smith said. Some of the small-time dealers are used to help capture a bigger dealer to prevent drug use from spreading. Although statistics for 2013 are not yet available, Smith said the task force is on course to arrest more than last year.
With those arrests, Smith said the heroin drug trade has changed locally because many are wary of dealing with Clatsop County, paranoid of being set up after busts like Operation Pandora’s Box late last year that resulted in 20 arrests.
The bust, which concluded a six-month investigation by the task force in September, resulted in the seizure of methamphetamines, heroin and $2,500 in cash from a compound on U.S. Highway 26 near Seaside and other apartments in the area.
Smith compared heroin dealing to a pyramid, where the withdrawal is so painful and the users get so sick, they eventually end up dealing, even if it’s just to one or two other people, to keep themselves in line with a supply.
“They create users underneath them, so there’s always someone in the chain and it just grows out and continues on,” he said.
The reason for the decrease in cocaine over the last few years, he added, is because opiates are introduced to kids younger through easily accessible prescription drugs. When those get too expensive or some of the pills – which have been altered by the drug manufacturers to gel when burned – are no longer smokable, they turn to heroin to achieve their opiate high.
“Ultimately we want to help individuals and society in general,” Smith said.
“Catching someone with a large quantity takes organization in timing because the product goes so fast, we can’t just walk up and kick in the door.
“We have to get a search warrant and be prepared, so yeah, it takes a lot of organization. We’re trying to get the most off of the streets.”
Smith says it was two months into 2013 before the task force saw any heroin because the Pandora’s Box bust had either removed the dealers or scared other ones away.
“We had a few small arrests, but it was difficult to get to the dealers because after that, nobody trusts anyone. Even outside dealers didn’t trust dealing to anyone in Clatsop County because of the amount of people we got with that one,” he said.
“We knew it was a good thing, but we didn’t expect to have that much of an effect on the drug trade.”
Unfortunately, he said, that means more people are likely turning to meth this year because it’s a drug they can more easily access.