Fight against heroin continues - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Fight against heroin continues

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HUEYTOWN - AL -

It's not just in New York City, or Hollywood, or back alleys for that matter.

Heroin is killing in our own back yard.

Heroin overdose deaths have skyrocketed in the Birmingham metro area we've seen more than 80 deaths in Jefferson County alone since 2012.

DEA assistant special agent in charge Clay Morris says the drug keeps coming in as law enforcement keeps plugging it off.

Seizures of heroin have risen more than 230 percent at the nation's southwest border. It's a never ending battle. And, it's a battle being fought right here.

One of the areas seeing the most heroin distribution and abuse is Hueytown. Hueytown's police chief calls his city 'ground zero.'  In the last two years,  Hueytown police have made 100 heroin related arrests.

Everyday they are on the lookout for pushers.

Hueytown narcotics detective Sergeant Michael Shupe sees it in his city. His police department fights sellers and addicts every day.

"That's mostly all we see," says Shupe. "We see people passed out at the wheel with
needles in their arms and people dead with needles in their arms. Heroin has taken over everything."

"We try to find the heroin users, and then work our way up from the user to the seller,
to his seller, to their seller."

On this day, Shupe and his narcotics team are following an informant as she makes a heroin buy.

Drug dealers recognize the department's undercover vehicles, so they have to keep their distance.

Within seconds, the deal is done.

No arrest is made on this day. However, the buy is part of building a case against the dealer.

A search warrant will be served in the coming days.

"We make a number of arrests. We're very pro-active in our approach to try and deal with the problem," says Hueytown police chief Chuck Hagler.

Hagler calls Hueytown the heroin crossroads. His city fits between west Birmingham, where the drugs come in from Atlanta, and goes all the way down I-59/20 to Tuscaloosa.

The informant making the recent buy just lost her husband to a heroin overdose.

He's one of three heroin related deaths in Jefferson County since January 1.

The Jefferson County coroner's office reports 84 heroin-related deaths have been recorded from January 2012 to today.

Chief Hagler sees one change: users are calling for help sooner.

"The people they are with are quicker to call I think now for assistance. That they understand that it's not someone slipping off into a deep sleep."

Across Jefferson and Shelby counties, federal investigators have made major busts. Bringing down some of the top heroin distributors.

Including the most recent round-up of nearly 40 heroin dealers in September.

With the recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hagler has a new concern. He believes heroin use is glorified.

Here's the reality Hagler wants to stress.

"Heroin doesn't discriminate, based on anything, including economic status. Rich people have heroin addicts in their families as much as poor people do."

Another growing concern about heroin, is that some is laced with the powerful prescription drug Fentanyl.

Dozens of people have died in recent weeks in states like New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Dealers are marketing it as a "super high" because it is so potent.

The drug Fentanyl is typically used to ease the pain of end-stage cancer patients or in anesthesia.

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