Police see increasing heroin problem in suburbs Piecemeal evidence shows rise in use over last year

March 24, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Heroin is spreading into the suburbs, and a recent afternoon in Baltimore illustrates the point -- 20 suburbanites arrested for trying to buy the drug.

For months, police officials have been gathering piecemeal evidence that shows a rise in heroin use, including the apparent overdose of a Howard County kindergarten teacher in January and a rash of thefts last year by heroin addicts.

"This is just supporting documentation that shows we were on target," said Lt. Tim Branning, who heads the narcotics and vice division of the Howard County Police Department. "This was important because it's people with roots here and the potential for crime here."

Branning, who also heads the department's intelligence section, sent a note to several police supervisors Thursday after learning about eight Howard County residents being arrested March 6 on heroin charges. Another resident was charged with buying crack cocaine.

On that afternoon, Baltimore police -- posing as drug dealers on a southwest city street corner -- also arrested 10 Anne Arundel County residents and two from Baltimore County. Most were charged with attempting to buy heroin.

City police in the Southwestern District said they conduct the "reverse stings" once every two months. However, they haven't noticed any trends concerning the buyers, said Lt. Russell Shea, who heads the district's drug unit.

"We have 50,000 addicts here," Shea said. "We already have a good base, always have."

Police reports said many of those arrested asked officers for $20 worth of "raw" or "dope," both street terms for heroin, police said.

The Howard residents arrested live in Ellicott City, North Laurel, Elkridge and Columbia, according to police reports.

Heroin use "seems to be fairly widespread throughout the county," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, spokesman for Howard police.

Since those arrested were buying $20 to $40 packages of heroin, they were probably users and not dealers, police said.

Experts and police say heroin is sweeping through the suburbs because it's easy to buy, cheap and pure enough to sniff.

In the past, heroin addicts had to heat the drug -- an opiate -- and then inject it into the bloodstream.

Statewide, the estimated number of heroin users has jumped about 30 percent since 1992, from 42,800 to 56,000, according to state figures.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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