Over the past year, the amount of heroin seized by the Metro Drug Unit has increased by more than 400 percent.
Charleston Lt. Eric Johnson, Metro Drug Unit commander, said the unit seized 2.3 kilograms, or about five pounds, in 2013.
That's enough for one person to get high every day for nearly 63 years, he said, citing statistics that show the typical dose is about a tenth of a gram.
Last year's seizures are a dramatic increase over the 566 grams seized in 2012.
"We were up 405 percent from the previous year, 2012," Johnson said. "We were up 825 percent on heroin over the previous five-year average."
The unit, which typically goes after mid- to high-level drug dealers, seized 446 grams of heroin in 2011, 89 grams in 2010, 238 grams in 2009 and 51 grams in 2008.
As prescription pills become harder to get, more addicts are turning to heroin, Johnson said.
He said new laws have made it harder to obtain prescriptions, meaning buyers are seeing higher prices.
Several states, including West Virginia, have ordered physicians to begin using tamper-proof prescription pads and have passed laws against doctor shopping, where a person obtains a prescription from multiple physicians. A bill pending now in the Legislature would allow first responders to carry drugs to counteract the effects of an opiate overdose.
Some states have taken the fight a step further.
Legislators in Florida, once known for its large number of pill mills, passed a bill in 2010 that required privately operated pain clinics to register with the state Department of Health and all physicians in the office to be licensed.
"So if you can get heroin for the same price as, say, a Roxicodone, or it's cheaper than a Roxicodone, you're probably going to go with heroin - especially if you're an addict," Johnson said.
"Our prescription pill seizures - last year, 2013, was the first year we saw them go down, primarily due to the increase in legislation. The Florida pill mills are not what they once were a few years ago.
"So even though heroin went up 405 percent from the previous year, our pills went down. We only seized in 2013 about 60 percent of what we seized in 2012."
The drug unit seized 12,300 pills in 2013. In 2012, the unit seized more than 20,000 pills, he said. Detectives seized 12,000 prescription pills in 2011 and 8,000 in 2010.
Johnson said it's an easy transition from prescription painkillers to heroin because of the similarities. Opiates, whether they're legal use prescription painkillers like oxycodone or the illegal narcotic heroin, are derived from the poppy plant.
"Heroin has no socioeconomic boundaries," Johnson said. "It's from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. And that's why - it's because of the pills.
"But when it comes to being addicted to those types of pills, people basically get to the point where if they don't have them, they don't feel normal. If they don't get those pills, if they don't get that shot of heroin, then they feel sick, and that can last for days. So the best thing to do is to get that next fix."