09/18/16 — Heroin crisis -- Trafficking: Law enforcement efforts

View Archive

Heroin crisis -- Trafficking: Law enforcement efforts

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on September 18, 2016 12:19 AM

Near the beginning of this year, a man riding an Amtrak to North Carolina from New Jersey ate an orange.

He died instantly.

His stomach was filled with balloons of heroin he was smuggling into the state, with every intention of bringing the drug to Goldsboro.

The acid in the orange corroded the balloons, releasing all the heroin at once into his body.

"That heroin was coming back here, and we didn't know that until recently. But one of the local dealers here in town, that was his connect, and the guy was coming and bringing it back and he was on the train. They'll do that a lot," said Mike Cox with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.


More recently, a man was driving back into Goldsboro from a trip to New Jersey.

His van had a spare tire on the back, which he purchased from Rohr Tire on William Street before the trip up north.

As he re-entered the area, he was swarmed by sheriff's deputies.

The man was attempting to smuggle 3,200 bags of heroin into Goldsboro, and the bags were all stashed inside of the spare tire.

"He had a conversion van, and he put it on the back of his van. He went to New Jersey and got the heroin, and what he did was, once we got him, he told us he let the air out of the tire enough that he could push it off the rim and shove the heroin in the tire, and then he'd go to a local gas station with air and blow the tire back up," Cox said. "When we stopped him we told him we knew it was in the tire, and asked him how we were going to get it out. He said, 'I'll get it out for you,' and he actually stabbed a knife in the tire and cut the tire open."

The man was charged with third-level trafficking in heroin and serving his sentence in Greene County.


Heroin has become an epidemic in Wayne County, with 35 overdoses treated at Wayne Memorial Hospital in 2016 alone. According to data from the Goldsboro Police Department, there have been nearly 100 heroin-related arrests made in the past five years -- arrests only began to spike between July and December 2013.

Wayne Memorial Hospital only began tracking overdoses on April 1, after a spike in overdoses -- 12 in one week -- raised cause for alarm.

"April was our busiest month," said Wayne Memorial Hospital's Director of Public Relations Georgia Dees. "Since then it's dropped off a lot."

Law enforcement officials say the batches of heroin coming to Wayne County are the strongest they've ever seen, and are often laced with other opioid painkiller drugs.

The deadly drug is being mainlined into Wayne County and the surrounding area by way of New Jersey, with batches being transported to the local area at alarming rates.

"It's being brought in by -- I mean, it's pretty much being muled in here," Cox said. "Some of the dealers are actually going and picking it up and bringing it back, and others are having it muled in, meaning they'll find people that don't stand out or have bad records or anything like that to go pick it up for them and bring it back. It's coming out of New Jersey -- 95 percent of it comes out of New Jersey."

Dealers and carriers in the drug trade call it "going up top" when they speak of going to New Jersey to bring back a load of heroin.

They bring it back any way they know how -- raw bricks, bindles, loose bags. But neatly packaged heroin in glycine bags, stamped with a trademark symbol as it was in the days of LaGrange natives Ike Atkinson and Frank Lucas -- those days are gone.

"Most everybody we've interviewed, big dealers and all, they make trips up there, and they don't even hide it good, man. They just buy four or five ounces, because with heroin it don't take much, and then they just come back, package it up and go," Cox said. "We're not seeing much of the glycine bags anymore either, like the old-style heroin you used to see. People would get glycine bags that had a stamp on it; we're not really seeing that anymore. We're seeing it broke right off of a brick, it almost looks like a rock. We're seeing it powdered up into little nickel marijuana bags, but no stamp or anything on it anymore."


Slightly more than a year ago, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office arrested several members of the Bloods -- a national gang that originated in Compton, Calif. -- for trafficking heroin.

"You had your heroin dealers, but most of the time there weren't many heroin dealers. There were two, three, four guys you knew that sold heroin, and that was basically it," Cox said. "It was actually controlled by the Bloods, the Blood gang here in Goldsboro was who controlled it. If you weren't Blood you couldn't sell it. You had to buy it from them and everything like that."

When those arrests were made, heroin began spreading through the county like wildfire.

"It's branched out. Ever since we got the members of the Bloods that were controlling it around here, it's pretty much went back to anybody selling it," Cox said. "You had your heroin addicts, you knew what they were doing and you knew a few heroin dealers, but it didn't start getting real bad, I mean terrible bad, until I'd say somewhere around a year ago. It just went through the roof. Everybody sells it now. Everybody's on it."

And with more people selling it, the heroin has become stronger and deadlier as each dealer competes for business.

"Good heroin will make you throw up. It'll make you nod. Excellent heroin will put you right out," Cox said. "The people we've interviewed that overdosed said they either snorted it or shot it up, and then within three to four minutes they don't remember anything about what happens next. Then they wake up, they've been given narcan (an overdose treatment drug) and they're coming to. They don't even remember falling asleep or anything. It sneaks up on them that quick."

The heroin coming into Goldsboro is either laced or is terrifyingly potent, Cox said. He said he is seeing heroin that looks nothing like what heroin is supposed to be -- light brown, dirty looking, powdery.

The new heroin is as shock white as fresh snow.

"We had one weekend where it was 11 or 12 overdoses in a single weekend. We traced it back to a load of heroin that had just recently come in, and everybody called it China White," Cox said. "It was white. Most heroin we seize is brown, light brown or tan. This stuff was just as white as could be. We had one heroin addict, he's bad into it, he said he didn't think it was laced with fentanyl, but it was just super strong heroin. He said it was a different kind of high than what normal heroin gives you."

Heroin that is laced is mixed with any number of lethal opioid painkiller prescription drugs -- hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone and more.

"These people will take hydrocodone, oxycodone, all kinds of stuff, crush the pills up and mix it with the heroin -- they get xanax, whatever they can get their hands on to cut it," Cox said. "Most of the time you'll see drug dealers take powdered sugar and cut the heroin with that. Or they'll take baby formula and cut it. That's what they used to cut it with, but now they're cutting it with fentanyl, and I don't know where they're getting the stuff from. The only fentanyl I've ever seen comes in patches or a gel or fentanyl pops. But I don't know where they're getting the fentanyl in powder form from. It's just like a couple of years ago,a year and a half or so ago, what they called loveboat, boat or wet, was on the streets. That spiked for awhile. It's marijuana that was soaked in formaldehyde -- where are these people getting formaldehyde from?"


Law enforcement officers are doing what they can to get the problem back under control. In order to find where heroin is coming from and make arrests to get dealers and drugs off the streets, they follow addicts.

"You're never going to get it off the streets. It's tough. What we do is work off of tips from people that live in the community that see things going on in their neighborhood that ain't right. Or we know certain heroin addicts, and we'll follow them," Cox said. "We know that they're going to take us to where it's at. Most of them, first thing in the morning that's the first thing they're looking for. If you jump on one first thing in the morning and follow them around they're going to take you to where the heroin is at. Then we'll sit and watch the spot, informants tell us things -- we've hit some good ones, but you're never going to stop it."

And as law enforcement fights the spread of heroin, Cox says it is alarming how many people are using -- and how young they start. Cox said he has interviewed multiple addicts that are only 19 years old who say they began using heroin at 13 years old.

"It blew my mind when I found out we've had this many people come out of the woodwork during this last little bit that were overdosing. I'm telling you man, we stopped a woman the other day that took her daughter and her granddaughter to a trap house to buy heroin," Cox said. "Her daughter was hooked on it, the mother was hooked on it, and I believe the daughter's boyfriend was hooked on it. When they pulled up at this house, and got out, the mother and the daughter walked in this house, bought heroin, got back in the car with their grand baby in the car. We stopped them and you know, you're just like what kind of mom are you to take your child to go buy heroin?"

Contributing to the rise of heroin is the rise of corporate-backed, medically sanctioned prescription opiate drugs -- the same ones dealers are now lacing heroin with.

"It's definitely the drug of choice around here right now," Cox said. "It all comes down to when you talk to these people they got in a car wreck, got in some kind of chronic pain, where a doctors office or somebody put them on pain pills, and they got addicted to the pills, and then they started buying pills, and the pills got too expensive for what they were doing, and they flipped to heroin. That's probably the biggest story you'll hear from everybody. It all comes down to an opiate dependency."

Perhaps the most telling thing about heroin -- about how powerful it is and how addictive it is -- is who uses it.

According to Cox, the drug does not discriminate and often sinks its deadly hooks into the lives of people you see everyday.

"You know, these people that are hooked on this heroin are the people that are cooking your food at these nice restaurants in town, that are watching your kids at the daycare, that are sticking you with needles at the doctor's office and drawing your blood -- these are the people that are hooked on this stuff," Cox said.

Cox said most of the heroin is originating from inside the city limits, with hot spots stretching from the Alpha Arms apartment complex out to U.S. 70 and into parking lots of local retail stores as deals are made on the go.

And as law enforcement tries to crack down on the problem, they are hitting the areas known for heroin in every way imaginable.

"It's pretty much all over the whole city," Cox said. "Pick you an addict and follow them, and they'll take you to it. "