Shelby County investigators tackling another dangerous drug

By Melanie Posey

SHELBY COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - First it was methamphetamine. And now, Shelby County combats heroin. Though a different type from the 1970's popular version, this new form is called "brown tar." It's said to come from the Mexican drug trade.

"If you look at it, it has a brown substance, sort of like what you use to fix your roof or stop a leak," says Lt. Chris George, commander of the Shelby County Sheriff's Drug Task Force.

George says the drug has been on the rise since last October.

"The way the heroin is coming in now, it's less expensive that in the past. And the level of purity is allowing people to smoke it or free base...or snort it."

As for who's using it, officials say it's mostly teens and 20-somethings who see it as cool, hip, and different.  

"It's not meth. We see pictures of that and it's a dirty drug," George says. "It's not marijuana.  That was your parents' drug."  Those who run treatment centers are seeing the increase as well."

Susan Staats-Sidwell says, "These are young kids who just go to a party and shoot up." Sidwell is part owner of the Shelby County Treatment Center, a methadone clinic that treats heroin users.

She says just a few years ago, they'd see one or two heroin addicts a month. Now it's about 25. Yet it's not so surprising to her or her business partner.  

"I don't think there's enough education and treatment," says Dr. Glenn Archibald, the other owner of the treatment center. "I think there's a lot of denial"   

Lt. George says he and his investigators are well aware of the problem. "The biggest issue are the resources and choosing our battles," George says as he speaks of having only 9 investigators to tackle other big issues like meth, prescription pills, and doctor shopping.  

He says its actually parents who can help combat the problem by watching their children, asking questions, and getting involved.  "If we get involved, someone's going to jail. They're already addicted. If you can find it before we do, it'll be better for everybody."  

When the meth problem became so large, Lt. George says his department teamed with the Shelby County District Attorney to create a Zero Meth campaign. He says the heroin problem has now become so serious in the county that they are looking at now doing a similar campaign.

Copyright 2010 WBRC. All rights reserved.