Going after heroin dealers not an easy task for local law enforcement

Published 1:12 pm Thursday, September 22, 2016


Recent overdose deaths in the Danville area may be linked to heroin laced with more potent drugs such as fentanyl or carfentanil. While it “sounds good” to say that the solution is going after the dealers, unfortunately, that could prove to be difficult, said Danville Police Chief Tony Gray.

“It’s hard to prove,” he said, explaining that someone could be getting their substance from more than one individual. “It sounds good to say that, but it’s a very difficult thing to prove … If I thought we could do it, I’d be all about it.”

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That doesn’t mean his department is relaxing in its endeavors to stop drugs making their way through the region.

“It’s the same battle. A different drug, but our approach is the same because the system is the same,” Gray said. “It’s the same process as with any dealers. All drug investigations are very time- and resource-consuming.”

It can easily take four officers in one shift to conduct a drug investigation: one to two in the car observing, and two separate cars available to make stops. Sometimes, that’s all the officers on duty during one shift, which means they have to break to take other calls, or that other officers have to come in early, spending overtime hours, to cover the regular calls.

“Calls don’t stop,” he said, explaining that the regular calls can be anything from loose dogs to domestic violence and they have to be answered as soon as possible.

One particular night, Gray said, four Danville officers were conducting a drug interdiction, so he came in early to cover for them. Officers working third shift came early, too. That night, there was also a hit-and-run, along with several other calls. Once a traffic stop was made and drugs were found, a search warrant was obtained and executed on a house the search lasted an hour and a half to two hours and required six to eight people, he said.

“People who were supposed to be off at 11 p.m. stayed until after the warrant was executed at about 1 a.m.,” he said. For Gray, the night ended at about 4 a.m., after having come back in at 9:30 p.m. “That was a fairly simple one.”

But even in that case, Danville police relied on help from the Boyle County Sheriff’s Department for about two hours.

“For the problems we have, the department has to grow to actively attack,” he said.

That doesn’t mean they are going to stop trying, Gray said. Similar sentiments were echoed by Boyle County Sheriff Derek Robbins.

“Our guys go every night to try to find it. Sometimes we find it, sometimes we don’t,” Robbins said. “(The dealers) have to get lucky every night. We get lucky once.”

It’s hard to determine if fentanyl is arriving in a pure form locally and then being mixed into the heroin, or if it’s arriving in the area pre-mixed, Gray and Robbins said.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to know when a new batch arrives in an area, because the overdose deaths begin to rise.

“That’s when you see clusters,” Gray said.

Robbins said his office is trying to get Narcan kits for some of the department cars, because officers are often first on the scene of an overdose, and seconds matter. Narcan is a drug that can stop the effects of an opioid overdose.

Robbins pointed out that under the Good Samaritan Law, those who call to get help for a friend who is overdosing cannot be charged.

But those who give out the substances will be, if they can locate them.

“We are not specifically looking to charge the person who overdosed, but if we can figure out where it came from, we will charge (the dealer),” Robbins said. “We try to look through any avenue.”

Most likely, he said, they will try to make the case a federal one, which would bring in federal forces capable of devoting more time and manpower than the local department can. Federally, he said, dealers are being prosecuted for 20-year sentences, especially if it results in death.

“If it took life, we are trying to take it federal. If we have a case we can take federal, we will,” Robbins said. “A lot of times, they lead to different jurisdictions. We don’t have the resources to track that — they do. They may be able to get 10 (people) where we could only get one.”

Gray and Robbins said they the problem is a big one because it’s deadly and crosses all boundary lines.

“It’s everybody’s problem. It’s a problem period,” Robbins said.

“Painkillers were the ones to hit all walks of life. In the past, certain drugs hit certain stereotypes,” Gray said. “Now those are expensive and heroin is cheap. But the consequence is death.”

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.