As people nationwide worry more about the impact of heroin on their families and communities, local police held two public meetings to discuss the problem and actions that residents can take.
On Sept. 28, Salem U.M. Church hosted representatives of the Selbyville Police Department, Sussex County Paramedics and Delaware’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Services (MCIS). The next day, Delaware State Police led an event at Millville Town Hall, hosted by state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr. (R-20) and Rep. Ron Gray (R-38).
Prescription drug abuse was the biggest issue until the State cracked down, said SPD Chief W. Scott Collins. Now, he said, “Heroin’s cheap, and it’s everywhere.”
The first problem is the illegal drug itself. While heroin users typically know what their body can handle, when it’s cut with lethal compounds, such as fentanyl and carfentanyl, “People don’t know what they’re getting,” Collins said.
Additives can kill a person before the needle has left their arm.
Naloxone (sold under several brand names, including “Narcan”) can reverse an opioid overdose, which stops the person breathing. If people revive a loved one with Narcan, experts advised, they should still call 911, since the drug is still in their system, or other drugs might be reacting in the body to cause more medical issues.
And, they noted, when police respond to an overdose, they cannot make drug arrests, by law, though they will confiscate illegal substances.
When it comes to repeatedly administering naloxone to the same people, longtime paramedic Robbie Murray Jr. admitted there is some “frustration in knowing that we’re waking these folks up, and they don’t have help available to them, or they don’t want to seek help … so we deal with it, and then we go back and deal with it again.”
“I think their families are grateful,” said Capt. Rodney Layfield, commander at DSP Troop 4 in Georgetown.
Drugs are considered a nonviolent crime, which frustrates some police officers, he said, because after they make arrests on possession or dealing, the light bail or sentencing means they are running into those same people a week later at the hardware store.
“We understand the initiative to push rehabilitation … but also our main job is to provide safety for the public,” Layfield said. But he said he also knows that, in the long term, “We are not going to arrest our way out of it.”
Literally anyone can be affected. Heroin addiction does not discriminate by color or socioeconomic status. Police have arrested English teachers and attorneys.
“The face of addiction has changed,” said Lisa Venables of Kent/Sussex Mobile Crisis Intervention Services. It’s not just young street punks. “Now, the calls that we’re getting are from individuals who are 60 or 70, and their lifetime hasn’t been addiction [or crime] at all. They are like you and me, and their route to addiction truly came through prescription drugs, post-surgery. … That’s not an excuse, that’s just an explanation.”
“We’re not dealing with the worst of the worst — we’re dealing with people that have addiction problems that are trying to live life day to day,” said Layfield. “Don’t be shocked. There’s somebody in here [today] that’s addicted, I’m sure. … The people that are suffering from addiction … they’re in amongst us, in our families.”
Police are working with intention. They’re mapping crime trends, so they can focus patrols on problem areas. For example, when Oak Orchard suffered a rash of crimes, the DSP patrolled late at night and made their presence known. Eventually, they nearly halved their monthly calls for service.
“We’ve not ridded Oak Orchard of drugs, … crime or thefts, but we have taken a huge bite out of crime down there,” Layfield said.
Similarly, the DSP noticed that Millville was being targeted in burglaries, especially in the many construction zones where there are empty houses. Once again, they targeted resources to the problem areas.
“I can certainly tell when a new product hits the streets,” said Murray. In one night, he said, they’ll get multiple calls for service, with reports of cardiac arrest, no breathing and other familiar signs of overdose.
Unfortunately, he said, if police warn the public to avoid certain packaging, that just attracts more users seeking a stronger high. People with addiction are always chasing the next high, he said, because it will never be as good as the first time. That’s why overdose victims are so often angry after being revived — because their high ended.
Prevention of crime and drugs
Police said they hope residents will speak up when something doesn’t seem right.
“You call us and tell us everything that’s going on. The more information we have, the easier it is for us to enforce certain things,” said Collins. “It takes that community uproar with anything to get things done. We need that push, and, unfortunately, we don’t have that momentum yet.”
With more data and complaints from “squeaky wheels,” the police can tell each other and legislators what crime trends they need to fix.
Tips to a police officer are helpful, but some police prefer a more documented complaint, through a public tip line. People may call anonymously.
Prevention is always key. DARE was taken out of the local schools, although the Indian River School District is preparing to pilot a new drug-prevention program.
Adults are also being encouraged to mentor. The commitment is just 45 minutes per week with IRSD children, and those who mentor often say it’s among the most rewarding things they do. Details are available through the IRSD Adult & Community Education office.
Police departments are also hosting Coffee with a Cop events — informal gatherings where people can meet their local police officers and ask about crime trends in the area.
Safety in neighborhoods
Police offered tips on ways for people to be proactive at home.
• People should be more proactive in their neighborhoods. Consider adding security systems, outdoor lighting.
• People should record the serial numbers of their home appliances, electronics and firearms, which helps items get home if they are found in a thief’s shed or in a pawn shop.
• Know your neighbors, so it’s easier to determine what is suspicious activity late at night.
“We can’t be everywhere at all times,” said Layfield.
“If you see it, call and report it,” said Collins.
• Don’t wait until the next morning, because the police can’t do much once the activity and the players are gone.
• People must lock their car doors.
“Our thefts would probably be cut even 75 percent if we would take the time to lock cars,” said Layfield.
Most of the recent car burglaries aren’t smash-and-grab jobs. Instead, people are just walking down the street, looking for unlocked doors that grant them access to loose change, sunglasses, GPS devices and other small valuables. (Collins suggested that some insurance agencies may not cover car-related theft claims if the keys are left inside the car — which he said is also frustratingly common.)
Most of the perpetrators of such crimes, he said, are heroin addicts who need money — typically white men ages 21-44.
People can view local crimes on the DSP crime map, online at www.crimemapping.com/map/de/DelawareStatePolice. It is not a complete listing, since the DSP keeps some things under wraps (such as domestic incidents), and many municipal departments don’t participate. But it provides some overview of crime statewide.
Neighborhood crime watch groups have been successful, and are being revived. The Delaware State Police has a community officer whose mission is helping neighborhoods improve safety. Contact DSP for details.
Neighbors can also connect on the NextDoor app or website, which is a private social media program to connect with, or alert, each other.
Residents can also use the Smart911 website or app, which emergency operators can access during an emergency, allowing people to list family members, allergies, pets or special situations that emergency responders should know when coming to their home, such as if a child has autism or a parent has diabetes.
Crack is coming
Venables has been in the treatment business for years, so she’s see the cycles, including two other opiate epidemics.
She said cocaine, methamphetamines and stimulants are coming now. That’s because people on heroin who are still functioning with regular lives want to keep getting high, but the opiates are downers. Now they need stimulants to wake themselves up.
The stimulants cause agitation and mood swings.
“Crack was bad. The crack user tended to be more hostile,” said Collins.
Heroin users act calmer, or appear to be nodding off to sleep (if they’re still conscious).
Some evidence of the shift from heroin may be found in the fact that paramedics have administered naloxone less this year than previously. Murray said he doesn’t know why, although it could be that police, fire companies, ambulances and individuals can now carry naloxone. Or maybe drug users are turning to crack, which naloxone doesn’t help.
Anyone having a psychiatric or substance-abuse crisis who needs assistance should contact Mobile Crisis Intervention Services (MCIS) at 1-800-345-6785 for the Southern Delaware Hotline.
They provide “psychological first aid” 24 hours a day. Problems may include depression; major life changes, such as unemployment or loss of an important relationship; anxiety; feelings of hopelessness; thoughts of suicide; delusions; paranoia; and substance abuse.
In an emergency, responders will drive to the house any time of day or night. They will make recommendations and try to connect the individual to a treatment center or program.
If the person appears to be an immediate danger to themselves or others, MCIS can do an involuntary 24-hour hold on that person, but it’s not an official committal, and it only lasts until that person can detox and talk to a psychiatrist for further recommendations to move forward.
MCIS also takes phone calls from the friends, families, church personnel and police officers who are working with an individual.
Sometimes it’s a “very helpless-feeling family member or friend, and they have exhausted all their possibilities, and they literally don’t know what next to do,” said Venables. “It may have escalated to their family member stealing from them.”
The best time to act, she said, is when the individual has come down from that high and says he or she wants to change.
People can also walk in to the Ellendale treatment center 24 hours a day, and some Salisbury, Md., programs also accept Delaware Medicaid.
A person dealing with addiction needs to truly want to change to be successful in a rehab program, and sometimes it takes multiple tries, she noted. But it’s possible, and there are many success stories.
For information on Delaware’s addiction treatment and recovery programs, call 1-800-345-6785 or visit www.helpishereDE.com.
By Laura Walter