Black Tar in the Bluegrass: A law enforcement perspective on heroin

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By Kevin M. Wilson
Heroin use is typically associated with big-city subcultures. But in recent months, rural communities, including every county in Central Kentucky, have been forced to deal with this major threat to public health.
In a recent interview with Detective Robert Puckett, a special drug enforcement investigator for the Kentucky State Police, to discuss the emergence of heroin in the region.
As Puckett explains, this outbreak of street heroin in Kentucky is connected to the opioid prescription pain pills (a synthetic cousin of heroin) that were rampant here during the last decade. In part, heroin is increasingly popular, “due to the fact that the black market price of the pills has gone up.” And they are “much, much harder to come by” as a result of law enforcement’s crackdown on that front.
Not surprisingly, this unforeseen turn of events caught a lot of folks off-guard in the Commonwealth. And everyone has had to adapt quickly. “I’ve been policing almost 10 years,” Puckett said, “and I’ve worked narcotics for six of those 10 but I had never even seen heroin until about eight months ago.”
Referring to his first heroin bust, Puckett relates that, initially, he didn’t know what he was looking at. “Cocaine is white and easily identified. With heroin you might have white heroin, you might have brown heroin, you might have black tar heroin, it comes in many different shapes and forms,” he said.
There are reportedly several prominent varieties making their way into Kentucky right now that originated in exotic locales such as China, Mexico, and Afghanistan. But, according to Puckett, regardless of origin, the fact is that most of our heroin is coming to Kentucky directly out of Detroit.
“The suppliers have made prior connections here and identified willing, locally-based business partners. They’ll come here with the product, stay a few days at a time, and then go on back to Detroit while their local partners sell it to people who sell it to other people.”
Heroin use has plenty of nasty side effects and undesirable health consequences associated with it. Not to mention almost certain addiction. But it is also much more deadly to our population than other sorts of abused substances.
Puckett suggests that the biggest danger with the street heroin as opposed to the pills is that, “with the pills you know what you’re getting in terms of content. You’re always getting a fixed amount.” With heroin, on the other hand, it is impossible to ascertain the purity level. This is why we are currently dealing with so many young people dying from heroin experimentation in our communities. They never see it coming until it is too late.
“You might get used to buying a lower purity level of heroin that gets you what you are looking for as an addict,” Puckett reflects, “but one day you might happen to get some really high-grade stuff from ‘Joe Blow’ up the street and...BAM...it blows your heart out and you’re dead. You overdose on the spot because your body just can’t handle it.”
But there is hope. Through increased community education, intervention, and prevention efforts, this trend can be reversed. And though the problem at hand is daunting, Puckett is confident that increased police attention to this matter is beginning to make a difference already.
Kevin M. Wilson is a Prevention Specialist at the Bluegrass Regional Prevention Center in Lexington and a special contributor to the Citizen-Advertiser. For more information call 859-225-3296 or email kmwilson@bluegrass.org.