Heroin has replaced other hard drugs, such as cocaine, as the easiest to find and most commonly used, said detectives in the Falmouth Police Department, and its use has become an epidemic.
Longtime narcotic officers in the special services division, Christopher P. Bartolomei, 10 years in the department, and Robert D. Murray, 32 years in the department, as well as Captain Brian Reid, 16 years in the department, sat down last week to discuss heroin use in Falmouth.
The conversation took place after a recent wave of heroin overdoses in Falmouth as well as across the Cape and New England.
“We are doing everything in our ability to intervene with supply chains, but I want to stress that this is not strictly a law enforcement issue, it is a public health issue. We can’t arrest our way out of this,” Capt. Reid said. “There has to be a bigger discussion to address this issue. This is not isolated to Falmouth, this is a problem everywhere.” He said that detectives have been tracking down dealers for years before this; heroin is not new to the area.
Falmouth Chief of Police Edward A. Dunne said that heroin use is a problem but it is not unique to Falmouth, nor is it unique to Cape Cod or New England; it is an issue across the country, he said. Last week he attended a conference, the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar Training program, and met with police chiefs across New England, many of whom voiced similar concerns about heroin use as well as other drug use.
He said that families, churches, schools, prevention partnerships, and “everyone needs to be part of the solution.”
“Heroin is the drug of choice today,” over other harder, recreational drugs like cocaine and crack, Det. Bartolomei said. “We have informants that say it is the easiest drug to find. I don’t think people realize how bad it is.”
As to how many residents they could estimate that are using heroin in Falmouth, they said that it would be impossible to estimate.
Drug-Related Crime is Prevalent
Both detectives agreed that 90 percent of crime in Falmouth, if not more, is drug related. This is true elsewhere, they said. The crimes committed over drug-related incidents are more violent as well.
Also new is that the detectives are seeing heroin among younger people. They have also seen users up to 70 years old. “We’re seeing it all across the board,” Det. Bartolomei said. It effects a wide range of ages and economic incomes as well. “You see people from ‘normal families’ that get hooked on prescription pills and are now on heroin,” Det. Murray said. “It’s a nasty drug.”
Chief Dunne echoed the comment. “We’re seeing it in all walks of life—poor families, wealthy, middle class,” he said. The other chiefs he spoke with at the conference concurred.
The detectives are also seeing stronger heroin. The drug in Falmouth was 2 to 5 percent pure heroin five to 10 years ago, the rest mixed with other additives in order for dealers to increase their profit. “Now we are seeing it in higher quality without a doubt,” Det. Bartolomei said. The increase, he said, has led to more overdoses.
I want to stress that this is not strictly a law enforcement issue, it is a public health issue. We can’t arrest our way out of this.
Captain Brian Reid
Since the beginning of the year in Falmouth there have been six reported overdoses, one resulting in death. Mashpee has had six as well. Other Cape Cod police departments are reporting a recent spike. Falmouth police officers said that some of these overdose victims used fentanyl while using heroin. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate.
The detectives are also beginning to see greater quantities of heroin. Before, they would come across mostly bags of heroin of .05 grams, enough for a one-time use. They said that a bag costs between $20 and $30. Now they have begun to see more “fingers.” A finger equals 10 grams of heroin. They said that a finger can sell for approximately $1,000. Someone in possession of a finger is considered a dealer.
Five or 10 years ago, it was very difficult to buy a finger,” Det. Murray said. “Now it is easier. There is easier access to heroin.”
Heroin filtering into Falmouth comes mostly from Fall River and New Bedford, as well as Rhode Island, the detectives said.
There used to be a connection from Taunton to Falmouth. Two years ago the FBI made a large bust in Taunton, Det. Bartolomei said, which mostly suspended that flow into Falmouth. The heroin coming from New Bedford and Fall River is more potent heroin compared to heroin from Rhode Island, they said.
From Prescription Pills to Heroin
Before a federal crackdown on prescription pills, the detectives said that oxycodone and Percocet were popular. Dealers would buy pills in Florida for a dollar and then ship them to the Northeast by UPS, FedEx, or by car. When the prescription pills were taken off the street, users turned to heroin. As a result, they have also seen residential break-ins, in which the only thing in the home out of the ordinary is a bathroom cabinet has been gone through and prescription pills taken.
The detectives see the ugliness of the drug. In jail cells, after making an arrest on a warrant, the arrested individual will tell the officers that he is an addict and that he will be going through withdrawal.
“It’s sad,” Det. Bartolomei said.
Users often get thrown out of their homes for stealing from their families and live “anywhere,” Det. Murray said, including hotels and motels, and some users are homeless. They told a story of a young man who was thrown out of his home for stealing a $30,000 bracelet and pawning it at a local pawn shop for $120. “All users can think about is their next hit,” Det. Murray said.
They see some users who started using once a week and then eventually using once a day. Some even use up to 10 times a day. They get to that point because their tolerance for the drug increases. Once someone uses the drug every day, they get to the point where five bags will make them feel normal and it takes 10 bags to get high, Det. Murray said.
To Capt. Reid’s statement that the issue is not strictly a police matter, the detectives said that when they arrest one dealer, another will take his place. Where there is a demand, there will be a supply, they said.
While Falmouth has mostly middle-level dealers, they said, a few enjoy expensive cars, put their kids through college, and take trips to Foxwoods. But, they said, dealers fear one thing, and that is retirement. “Death or jail is retirement for a dealer,” Det. Bartolomei said.
As detectives, their goal is to arrest the higher-level dealers, but with recent budget cuts that has become harder, they all agreed. “We are no different from any other police agency. Unfortunate but necessary cuts over the last few years have impacted service delivery” Capt. Reid said.