When Belleview Sgt. Jody Backlund started in 2008, prescription pills were the big thing, he said. When those became more expensive and harder to get, people started turning to heroin.
In January, Backlund first saw evidence of the United States’ heroin epidemic in Belleview. Because the city’s police department consists of 13 sworn officers, any big drug tips are referred to the county sheriff office’s drug task force.
In September, agents on Marion County’s Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team announced the take down of four heroin and other narcotics trafficking organizations over the course of a year and a half-long investigation.
It was part of their initiative to combat the rising heroin and overdose deaths in the county. The investigation led to the arrests of at least 36 people.
National and local entities report the rise of heroin overdose death rates. They show:
- In 2014, more than 10,500 died in the United States from heroin, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- 2,333 Floridians died in 2015 from heroin, fentanyl and morphine, medical examiners’ figures provided to the state show.
- In Marion County, the sheriff’s office has responded to 112 overdose deaths from March until October — close to one every other day.
- Of the 112 overdose deaths, 20 were fentanyl and nine heroin.
- Marion County Fire Rescue has responded to 100 overdose calls in September alone (the highest monthly in three years) and deployed the overdose antidote, naloxone, more than 800 times — a nearly 25 percent increase from last year.
- In the first 10 months of 2016, first responders responded to 682 drug overdose calls in Marion County.
Backlund said the department usually makes five to 10 drug arrests a month and has seen one death in the city this year, due to heroin laced with fentanyl, a painkiller more powerful than morphine. The drug affects people from all walks of life, Backlund said.
“When it comes down to heroin, it doesn’t target a specific group of people, you see people from your drug addicts all the way to professional people,” he said. “That’s the thing about it.”
Law enforcement finds syringes and other paraphernalia in vehicles, purses pockets and public places.
“I talked to a guy the other day … He had a syringe behind his ear, holding it like a pencil, so that scares us a lot,” Backlund said. “I asked him: ‘Hey, what do you use that for?’ ‘I use that to shoot up drugs.’”