Heroin spike putting new neighborhoods at risk

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A sudden surge in cheap, highly pure and easily available heroin is directly fueling spikes in other crimes across Marion County, an I-Team 8 analysis found. New data uncovered by Crime Watch 8 proves for the first time that those crimes are happening with growing frequency in places many might not expect.

It’s all due to a sudden shift in supply, bringing huge shipments of heroin directly to Indianapolis-area streets. I-Team 8 found that sudden increase is likely already fueling new types of crime that are putting neighborhoods across Central Indiana at risk.

EPIDEMIC RISING

As the sun set on a warm early evening in early May, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Southwest Tactical Patrol Officer Tara Van Deman weighed the odds.

“This is right about the time we see the runs start coming out,” she said, thumbing through the dispatch computer in her squad car. “It’s pretty much a daily expectation now that one of us gets an overdose call.”

It came just 10 minutes later a block off busy West Washington Street at a home on Lyons Avenue. Wayne Township medics found a man there unconscious in the basement. His friend said he had collapsed and was struggling to breathe.

“They’re pretty sure it’s drug related,” Van Deman said as she arrived at the scene. “If he’s unconscious and it is drug related, they’ll get a drug into his system. And, if that wakes him up, then they know it was an opiate overdose.”

That drug is Naloxone — also known as Narcan. Last month, IMPD officers began carrying a dose of it in their squad car. It temporarily reverses the effect of the drug, buying time to get to the hospital for treatment.

It was the third time Van Deman watched Narcan save someone’s life that week.

‘IT’S HAPPENING EVERYWHERE’

“It doesn’t matter where you live, geographically, because overdoses happen everywhere,” Van Deman said. “I see it in high crime areas. I see it in nice neighborhoods. And, I see it getting worse.”

Death records obtained by I-Team 8 show 215 people died from accidental opiate overdoses in Marion County in 2013 on every side of the city and in every township. At least 111 of those deaths are directly attributed to heroin.

That’s up at least 30 percent from the year before.

But, it’s not just an urban problem.

Last year, the Indiana State Police Crime Lab processed three times as much heroin evidence as it did in 2008. Many came from suburban or even rural areas.

Just last month, Noblesville Police arrested John Eldred and Kristen Cebada on preliminary burglary and theft charges. According to court documents obtained by I-Team 8, Cebada admitted the two were breaking into nearby homes to steal items that could quickly be pawned off to buy heroin.

“It’s not just an inner city problem anymore. This is as bad as I’ve ever seen.”— Randy Miller, Drug Free Marion County

“This drug is impacting everybody across all socioeconomic lines,” said Randy Miller, Drug Free Marion County executive director. “It’s not just an inner city problem anymore. This is as bad as I’ve ever seen. Call it what you will, but it’s an epidemic now. If it’s not, then we haven’t had an epidemic of any kind.”

And, the impact is reaching far beyond just addiction.

‘THE ROOT OF ALL CRIME’

“I’ve heard it said that drugs are the root of all crime,” said Indiana State Police Capt. David Bursten. “That may be an exaggeration, but not by much.”

Sudden spikes in crime were first tied to heroin in Indiana in the 1980s when the drug first took hold in the Midwest. But, heroin use faded in the years following. Until recently, the drug was more closely associated with celebrities in Hollywood than in middle America.

Now, new data is now telling a familiar old story across Central Indiana: a spike in heroin use coupled with a rise in overall crime. Law enforcement has worked to track connections between the two for decades.

“Heroin creates a voracious addiction that feeds a variety of other crimes that the addict feels necessary to feed the habit,” FBI Director James Comey told I-Team 8 during a recent visit to Indianapolis. “We are [seeing] all manner of crimes to feed that habit, and we’re seeing them hit hard.”

But, there’s very little hard data available showing exactly what those adjacent crimes are, where they’re happening and how often they involve innocent bystanders as victims. So, I-Team 8 compiled data from more than 1,000 separate police reports to find out.

CRIME CONNECTIONS

According to records obtained by I-Team 8, IMPD, Metro Drug Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Agency have combined to make at least 145 separate heroin busts in Indianapolis alone so far in 2014.

I-Team 8’s analysis found the same addicts and dealers arrested or involved in those busts are also directly tied to at least 200 other crimes within the last three years, ranging from residential burglary and shoplifting to prostitution, assault and battery and murder.

Those adjacent crimes hit all sides of the city, seemingly with little discrimination for neighborhood status.

Below is a map of arrests tied to heroin in your neighborhood on an interactive map. The “H” represent a heroin arrest and the dots are other crimes. Click on either icon to see what crimes are related to each heroin arrest. (Disclaimer: Arrests do not equal convictions)

It’s no surprise to Officer Van Deman.

“It used to be that the majority of my runs were disturbances related to domestic situations. Now, if we have a disturbance, most of them have to do with drugs. The majority of our burglaries are addicts breaking in to find something to sell for narcotics. The majority of our robberies are related to narcotics, whether that’s a deal that’s gone bad or they’re robbing somebody to get something to sell to go buy drugs. Right now, that drug almost every time is heroin,” she said.

The crime connections are also becoming more violent.

“The majority of these addicts and drug dealers are carrying guns, and most of them are carrying illegally,” she said. “That’s frightening, especially with the addicts because this addiction is more important to these people than anything else.”

It’s the reason why Van Deman says heroin is already hitting close to home — even if some don’t yet recognize it.

“It’s affecting them. They just don’t realize what it is that’s causing these people to burglarize their homes and rob their neighbors.”— Tara Van Deman, IMPD officer

“It’s affecting them,” she said. “They just don’t realize what it is that’s causing these people to burglarize their homes and rob their neighbors.”

VICTIMS LEFT BEHIND

“I’ve been burglarized at least 50 times,” said Sheena Schmidt, who owns more than a dozen businesses and buildings in the city’s Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. “I have a stack of police reports that I’ve called down there where they’ve broken in, knocked walls down and windows in and everything.”

Schmidt says she has no doubt what’s fueling the increases.

“Heroin,” she said. “On all of them.”

The evidence has hit close to home.

Last year, Schmidt leased out one of her buildings in the 2400 block of Station Street to a group of men who opened an auto body shop inside. But, according to a federal indictment filed on April 9, those tenants were using the space to run a heroin and methamphetamine trafficking ring.

Federal agents raided the body shop in late December, seizing 1.5 kilograms of heroin worth nearly $100,000 along with $281,516 in cash. 17 alleged high level drug dealers were arrested and are now awaiting trial. It was the largest DEA heroin takedown in Indianapolis in the last three years.

Other connections came as a surprise.

“I was only gone for about 45 minutes, and I came back and the door was kicked in. They took some guns and a few other things, some of my dad’s belongings. But they just went through the house and ransacked it,” said Marcus McMullin, whose southeast side home was burglarized last year.

McMullin said he had no idea that one of the suspects listed in the burglary report was later arrested for possession of heroin.

“I had no idea,” he said. “But, I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. Not anymore. Heroin is way too easy to get and people are getting hooked.”

Heroin in an evidence bag.
Heroin in an evidence bag.

PUSHING A NEW HIGH

“You can get four lines for $20 right here on the street in broad daylight,” said Keith Parks, standing in front of the Mars Hill house he’s rented for the last eight years. “There’s always been crime here, but not like this. Now, there’s eight dope houses in either direction. The dealers are as young as 12 or 13 years old sometimes.”

Asked what’s creating the sudden demand, Parks shrugged his shoulders.

“On the street, I hear it every day,” he said. “They call heroin ‘boy.’ [They say] ‘I got to get some ‘boy’ because they cut us off our pills! We can’t get them so easy now.’ ‘Boy’ is cheaper and easier to get. So, that’s what they do.”

Indiana’s new heroin epidemic is often now beginning in the medicine cabinet. A new report from the National Office of Drug Control found 81 percent of the new heroin users ages 18-25 started by abusing prescription drugs.

“It starts with the use of opiates and painkillers, primarily,” said Miller, of Drug Free Marion County. “Youths especially are raiding medicine cabinets or buying at school, and then they’re hooked. Those folks then have decided that heroin is much cheaper. ‘It gets me high much quicker. I’ll switch to that.’”

It’s an easy choice for addicts, Miller said: search for a pain pill like hydrocodone on the street, and you might wait a day or two to pay between $60 and $100 per pill. Or addicts can wait five minutes for a $5 hit of heroin.

“If you have the right connections — and you’re looking for it — within 5-10 minutes you can probably find someone who can access it for you,” Miller said.

And, increasingly, dealers are going to great lengths to supply it.

“We just hit a house where they were trading tools, saws, weed-wackers and lawnmowers for the drug,” said IMPD Chief Rick Hite. “That’s something I haven’t seen in my 30 years of policing. And it’s a grave concern.”

It’s also a very attractive formula for drug cartels, who are fueling a sudden shift in Indianapolis’ heroin pipeline.

THE NEW HEROIN HIGHWAY

“Generally, what we’ve seen here is that all roads lead back to Chicago,” said Dennis Wichern, DEA Indianapolis Assistant Special Agent in Charge . “But, in any business — especially ours — sources evolve and change.”

The lure of profits is fueling a sudden shift away from the Midwest’s traditional heroin supply strongholds in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, and pushing production south of the U.S. border.

“That case [on Station Street] we took down in December, they were getting their drugs directly from Houston. And, we are seeing cases now where the product is coming straight up from McAllen, to El Paso, right into Indianapolis. That’s a big concern. I’ve redirected most of my resources solely to work heroin cases because of this problem we’ve been seeing the last few years,” Wichern said.

But, the battleground in this new war on heroin is becoming increasingly hard to find.

While Indianapolis once served as a “stopover point” between Cincinnati and Chicago on “heroin highways” like I-65, I-70 and I-74, cartels are now shipping the drug straight here along new routes, and officers are increasingly out-manned.

“Realistically, we’re looking at anywhere from 1-3 percent of the total problem that we’re [stopping on the roads],” said Bursten, of ISP. “That pipeline can be planes, trains, automobiles, commercial trucks, through delivery services like UPS or FedEx. It’s constantly moving and changing. And, when we devote our attention to certain areas, all we do is shift the problem.”

Asked when that problem might become a public crisis, Wichern raised his eyebrow.

“I think it already is,” he said.

FIGHTING BACK

This month, the FBI and DEA announced plans to combat the rise of heroin abuse by focusing on heroin suppliers in Mexico and Afghanistan.

“We’re working in conjunction with our federal partners to stop trafficking where we can, but also to drive up the cost of doing business for the cartels,” said FBI Director Comey. “That has impacts on the streets of all of America’s cities, because it drives up the cost of heroin, which makes it less likely to be used and have all those other [negative effects on crime].”

It’s a back-end approach.

But, Comey says the FBI and its partners in local law enforcement are willing to do whatever it takes to combat what may be the biggest narcotics threat America has seen in a generation.

“Right now, we have more of a chance of going to an overdose than having a drug bust,” said Van Deman, preparing for her next run. “That has to change.”

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