Coke, pot are common, but heroin is local killer

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Mike DuPre'
Sunday, July 13, 2008
— While marijuana and crack cocaine are the two most available and used drugs in Janesville, heroin has killed here.

And smack regularly comes close to killing users, says Sgt. Stephen DeWitt, supervisor of the Janesville Police Department's Street Crimes Unit.

Heroin has become more prevalent in Janesville, he said.

"It seems like heroin skipped a generation," DeWitt said. "It was here in the '60s and '70s, and now it's back. We see a reported overdose every couple of weeks. There are people here who deal heroin. Most of the people who deal it are users. Rockford (Ill.) is the big supply."

Local heroin users—typically men and women in their 20s—usually are sophisticated, such as the dealer in the movie "Pulp Fiction" who injected Uma Thurman's overdosed character with epinephrine to revive her, DeWitt said.

"They come into the hospital with epinephrine syringes stuck in their chests," he said. "Heroin users say it's very common. They all have the syringes and the stuff. They know how to use it."

The Rock County Coroner's Office reported 49 accidental overdose deaths in 2006, 2007 and so far this year. Thirty-six were caused by opiates or synthetic opiates: heroin, 1; morphine, 15; hydrocodone, 16, and methadone, 4. Heroin breaks down quickly in the blood and can appear as morphine in some autopsies.

The office has not received toxicology results on all possible accidental overdoses.

Most of the heroin trade in Janesville is not usually gang-related or large scale, DeWitt said. "Three to four grams at most."

A gram of smack translates into five $20 bags.

"Some people we run into do it two or three times a day, two to three bags at a time. Users are running two and three times a day to Rockford. They rarely hold large amounts," DeWitt said.

Users who snort heroin use less, while those who inject the drug shoot up three to five bags three to five times a day, he said.

Some heroin users in Janesville hold down jobs; others don't, DeWitt said.

Besides death through overdose, heroin's harm to society "ranks pretty high because your whole time is spent getting your fix. It doesn't leave a lot of time for work, school and family," he said. "Users probably don't meet as many violent people as crack people do. Heroin users are very cliquey. They know each other, trust each other and use the same sources."

The veteran Janesville officer offered a street cop's view of the drug scene in the city.

Drug use in Janesville is more prevalent now than in his 31 years on the job, DeWitt said, and has been on an upward trend over the last three years.

The reason?

"Money, because there's money to be made," DeWitt said. "It's all money, supply and demand."

Asked to break down the local drug trade by substance, DeWitt offered:

Marijuana: Pot has become more prevalent and cheaper over the last two years. Most of the commercial-grade pot comes from Mexico and costs about $70 an ounce. Higher grade marijuana—such as that grown indoors in hydroponic tanks or by sophisticated growers in British Columbia, Canada—sells for about $140 an ounce.

"I don't think there are a lot of local growers," DeWitt said.

His conservative estimate was that 100 pounds of pot a week moves into Janesville and through the city to the rest of Rock County and Madison.

Police are investigating about a half dozen dealers moving 10 to 20 pounds a week.

"And there's at least a half dozen we don't know about," DeWitt said.

People "all over the board," young to old, poor to rich, on all sides of the city, smoke marijuana.

From his perspective, the societal costs of marijuana use are "people don't want to work; people don't want to go to school. If they start dealing, they run into crime problems plus legal penalties. The problem you lead into with bigger amounts is that those people get beat up and get their product stolen.

"The problem is with the money," DeWitt said.

Cocaine: Powder cocaine comes into the city and county in kilos—2.2 pounds per kilo—and usually is converted to crack because the process expands the drug's volume.

"There are key people who handle kilos here," DeWitt said.

Crack cocaine is more available than powder cocaine.

An ounce of powder cocaine becomes what is portrayed as—but probably doesn't weigh—two to three ounces of crack. And because crack often is sold in small amounts, or rocks, it is cheaper to buy: $10, $20 or $50 rocks compared to $100 for a so-called gram of crack or $125 for a gram of powder cocaine.

DeWitt said his conservative estimate is that a dozen dealers each moves four to six ounces of cocaine a week here.

"The sky's the limit," DeWitt said. "There is a lot. It's easier to find crack than marijuana."

Most of the powder cocaine users the Street Crimes Unit encounters are in their late teens to upper 30s. Crack users range in age from 17 to 50s. Men and women use both forms of cocaine, but the unit doesn't see many professional people using cocaine in either form.

The current situation is not like the 1980s when white-collar cocaine use was prevalent.

But DeWitt stressed: "Our main focus is street-level drug dealing."

Professional people in Janesville might circulate drugs among their circles of friends, "but it's not our mission," DeWitt said. "It's not on our radar, but if we become aware of it, we deal with it."

"You see a lot of addiction with cocaine. You see a lot more people in financial trouble, marital trouble, work problems. Also the (criminal) element that they're dealing with can be difficult."

Coke dealers are apt to be armed and dangerous, DeWitt said. "The profits are higher; the costs are higher, so you're going to get that."

Methamphetamine: "We don't see a lot of it because cocaine is so cheap and available. Ecstasy (which contains methamphetamine) is always here, but you have to look for it."

While "heroin people can still function; meth people don't function very well," DeWitt said.

Ecstasy use appears limited here to college-age people.

"A lot of girls use it because it's a party kind of thing," DeWitt said. "It keeps you stimulated."

Hallucinogens: "We've found more (psilocybin) mushrooms here than LSD. We've found mushrooms grown here. On search warrants, we might find a small bag.

"It's more a designer drug, more a drug user's special drug, like a connoisseur thing. It's not a thing everyone does or can find."

Prescription drugs: Painkillers such as OxyContin, and stimulants such as Adderall.

Adderall is prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"A lot of it gets prescribed to kids, and they sell it. It's a lot like the oxy drugs (synthetic opiates). It's more a friends' circle. Someone gets a prescription, and they make a little money," De Witt said.

Police don't see a lot of trade in prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicadin.

"We don't run into a lot of it. There might two or three pills on a (traffic) stop or warrant."

But reports of stolen prescriptions are common.

"Some people actually are victims of theft. Some people actually sell their own prescriptions, then report them stolen."

People on all social levels abuse prescription painkillers in Janesville. Typically, they are recreational users are in their 20s and older.

Last updated: 9:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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