Police say heroin use on the rise in Beaumont
While methamphetamine, marijuana – synthetic or otherwise – and crack cocaine are drugs commonly seen in area police reports, another nasty nuisance, once practically nonexistent locally, is also becoming more prevalent.
Heroin, a highly addictive opioid that peaked in popularity in the late 1960s and the 1970s, has been on the rise in Beaumont and, reportedly, around the area, and police have their theories as to why the drug is gaining popularity. One theory relates to Beaumont’s prison population, and another asserts that the increase in local heroin use could be an unintentional consequence of legislative and police crackdowns on “pill mills” that were once a nuisance all over Southeast Texas.
According to the website www.streetdrugs.org, heroin is “synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as ‘black tar heroin.’”
Heroin can be injected into a vein, known as “mainlining,” injected into a muscle, smoked in a water pipe or standard pipe, mixed in a marijuana joint or regular cigarette, inhaled as smoke through a straw, snorted as powder and even taken via suppository.
Beaumont Police Department SWAT Lt. Ky Brown said he and other officers at BPD have noticed an increase in heroin-related arrests in Beaumont. He said he is not seeing huge quantities of the drug when they encounter local heroin users and dealers, but he is seeing it more often than in the past.
“The problem is we are seeing brown powder heroin more,” Brown said. “It is starting to become more prevalent on the street within the last year or 18 months. We are starting to see more quantity here, although it is generally small amounts.”
Brown said that in Beaumont, home to several prisons, the high prison population is one factor in the recent uptick in heroin-related crimes in Beaumont and spreading throughout the area.
“Heroin has always been popular within the prison system,” Brown asserted. “It was more popular in the late 1960s and in the 1970s, but then crack and meth took over. It was still fairly popular in prisons, though. We have a high prison population here, and sometimes, when the inmates are released, they stay in the area. Sometimes, their families will move to the area to be close to them while they are in prison, and they stay here after they get out. They might have been using heroin while in prison and could have made some contacts while they were in. It used to be that it was mainly around the upper east coast.”
Brown said Interstate 10 is a “corridor” often utilized by distributors of illegal drugs. One such example of that is the case of 64-year-old Ronald Clifton Brown of Clifton, Va., who was arrested on Feb. 10 with three kilos of heroin after making a rather strange claim to officers questioning him during a traffic stop.
According to a news release from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy stopped the GMC SUV Brown was driving on Interstate 10 eastbound at the 843 mile marker for having an obscured license plate. Upon making contact with the driver, the deputy reported the man appeared “extremely nervous.” The driver reportedly advised that he was returning to Clifton, Va. after visiting an 86-year-old friend that was hospitalized in Houston. When the deputy asked which hospital, the driver responded “Texas Children’s,” the JCSO reports.
After receiving consent to search the vehicle, a deputy located a satchel containing three bundles wrapped in duct tape in the backseat of the SUV. The contents were identified as brown powder heroin with an approximate street value of $250,000. Ronald Brown was arrested for possession of a controlled substance, penalty group 1, and transported to the Jefferson County Correctional Facility. His bond was set at $100,000.
Lt. Brown said in that case, Ronald Brown was not planning on distributing the drug locally but was likely a “mule” for a distributor. He said the suspect had almost certainly gotten the heroin from Houston, a major distribution hub for illegal drugs, and was transporting it via the Interstate 10 corridor across states.
In Beaumont, Brown said BPD executed two search warrants for heroin in 2013. One of the men arrested in the two busts was a product of the Texas prison system, Brown said. And, while two heroin busts in a year seems like a small number, Brown asserts that he has been working with narcotics for more than two decades and that those two busts, along with cases currently being investigated, shows an upward trend in local use.
Lt. Brown said in addition to the high prison population and the area’s close proximity to the Houston hub, another reason he believes heroin use has gained in popularity recently is due to a crackdown on “pill mills,” or pain management and other clinics that were distributing prescription medication in large quantities to drug abusers until legislation effectively shut down the majority of them in Southeast Texas. State legislation enacted Sept. 1, 2010, established the requirement that pain management clinics register with the Texas Medical Board, a measure meant to “combat pharmaceutical diversion,” according to information from the DEA. Another new requirement established by the law includes restrictions pertaining to ownership of a for-profit pain management clinic, namely that the facility must be owned and operated by a doctor or doctors who practice medicine in Texas, have unrestricted medical licenses and are certified as described in Rule §195.2 of the Texas Administrative Code, Title 22, Part 9, Chapter 195. The doctor must work onsite for at least one third of the facility’s operating hours. Physicians and employees at the clinics must pass criminal background checks, and the clinics must provide a written drug screening policy and compliance plan for patients receiving chronic opioids. The measures have been quite effective locally, Brown said, shuttering the majority of pill mills in the area.
He said users who went to the “pill mills” that once littered Southeast Texas for drugs like Dilaudid, or hydromorphone hydrochloride, that can be injected were looking for a new high. Drug users who were once able to “doctor shop” and obtain prescription medication through the pill mills needed a replacement drug, and found it on the streets in the form of heroin.
“There are still some people from around here who will drive to Houston and get a bunch of prescription drugs to bring back here,” Brown warned. “But a lot of prescription pill abusers, especially the ones who were injecting, are using heroin as an alternative.”