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Tue, Oct. 15

Agencies continue to tackle heroin issue

WNI Specialty Graphic/David Beatty
Information provided by PANT, Prescott Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team, Yavapai County Special Crimes Unit, DPS Northern Arizona and Sheila Polk, Yavapai County attorney.

WNI Specialty Graphic/David Beatty Information provided by PANT, Prescott Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team, Yavapai County Special Crimes Unit, DPS Northern Arizona and Sheila Polk, Yavapai County attorney.

Between February and October 2007, four people - two in Prescott, one in Prescott Valley and one in Castle Canyon Mesa - died while abusing heroin, according to Sgt. Bill Fessler, with Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking.

"There are a lot of rumors out on the street about these deaths," said Sgt. G. R. Manera, Arizona Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division. "We want to clear up those rumors."

For almost a year, two detectives have actively investigated heroin cases. One traffic stop alone yielded 4.25 pounds of heroin.

"We are all working together and combined our information," Fessler said of PANT, Prescott Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team, Yavapai County Special Crimes Unit and DPS Northern Arizona.

Sixteen people currently are in prison.

"It is our belief that heroin is not being produced locally, but being imported from Mexico and South America," Fessler said. "It works its way into Yavapai County on established traffic routes."

Drug cartels established routes through Tucson and Phoenix years ago, Manera said, adding that black tar or Mexican brown are easily available in Arizona.

"We are the Costco of drugs," he said. "People from Chicago and New York come here to get the drugs, buy them cheaper in bulk and then make three to four times profit."

PANT works with DPS for highway interventions. Interstates 40 and 17 are the main arteries for finding major hauls of all types of drugs.

"We take off a lot of pounds in this area," Manera said. "Yavapai County is not the destination."

Nationwide, authorities only intercept 10 percent of all drugs.

"We don't want to just get the user," he said. "We want the mid-level distributor and the dealer. The amount of a load and prior convictions identifies the length of a sentence. Our goal is to investigate the drug dealers and send them to prison."

Fessler said that in many cases he is dealing with repeat offenders and the children of offenders.

"I've been doing this since 1992," he said. "We are getting busier and we're not going anywhere."

Why overdose?

"There are a number of reasons users overdose," Manera said. "Heroin produces euphoria. People may start smoking it, but normally go to intravenous use to get a better high. Users want to ingest it to get the best effect. Once their tolerance level increases, using an IV hits their system quicker by going directly into the blood stream."

Manera said heroin users may be inexperienced and not know how much they can tolerate. Some may have used cocaine or meth and then use heroin in the same fashion. In other cases, heroin may be part of a highball concoction.

Of the cases in the Prescott area, the police reports tell little of the lives lost to heroin.

John Cross Jr., 21, died in August. Prescott police arrested him on March 20 for possession of heroin and on May 14, police found him passed out in a restroom from an overdose of heroin.

Matthew James Bannister of Alberta, Canada, died at the Prescott Valley Motel after an overdose Oct. 23.

Wilderness Oberman, 20, of Prescott, overdosed on heroin on Nov. 7.

Prescott Police found Corey Krane, 21, unconscious in a friend's bathroom from an apparent heroin overdose. LifeLine personnel administered Narcan and revived him.

Contrary to rumors, Kendall Linne-Panzarell, 18, a senior at Prescott High School, died Oct. 3 from a cocaine overdose, not heroin.

Is heroin replacing meth as drug of choice?

According to the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program FY 2007 annual report, heroin is not the current illicit drug of choice in Arizona. Most heroin police find in Arizona is on its way to other U.S. destinations.

"I don't know if heroin use is resurging; it has always been a drug that people have used," commented YCSO Lt. David Rhodes. Heroin is one of the easiest drugs to overdose and die from, he explained.

"Meth is not on its way out," he stressed. "There have been things that have been done. For example, state laws and city ordinances and making precursor chemicals such as Ephedrine difficult to buy has helped decrease the number of meth labs in the U.S. However, that just caused the Mexican cartels to transport meth here just like marijuana and cocaine."

Rhodes also stressed that the county has been responding aggressively to meth with the Town of Prescott Valley, YCSO, PANT and DPS working on narcotics.

"I know we are arresting more people now than ever in the past and a huge amount of those arrests are drug arrests," Rhodes added.

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