CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Putnam County law enforcement officials are confronting a mounting problem with an old drug -- heroin.
Putnam Chief Deputy Jack Luikart addressed heroin usage during a Tuesday county commission meeting.
Police have seen heroin usage grow rapidly in the last two years.
It started with prescription pill abuse, he said.
When Oxycontin manufacturers switched to tamper-resistant gel caps, users simply switched to Opana, he said. As a third opioid, roxicodone, which is still available in crushable form, became more prevalent, users then switched to that drug.
"Then about that time the heroin would start showing up," Luikart said. "Dealers are moving straight in here because they see a market here."
Luikart said the highly dangerous drug has been moving into the suburban areas from Charleston and Huntington. He said the source of the drug is Detroit.
Luikart arrested Travis Edwards at his Hurricane area home in December after receiving reports of heavy foot traffic in and out of the house. He said the man set up shop in his home and began selling heroin and pills. Edwards currently is awaiting trial.
"He was in Huntington for a while and just moved up to Hurricane because the demand was there," Luikart said. "There was a tremendous amount of traffic going to his house. He was blatant about it."
The users police have seen are mostly 18- to 25-year-olds, he said. The drug, which was once scarce in the area, is becoming more prevalent.
"People can get more heroin for less money than pills," Luikart said. "They get on it and it's terrible to get off it."
Lt. Chad Napier, commander of the Metro Drug Unit, said the heroin problem has been steadily rising over the last two years.
In 2010, undercover detectives in Kanawha and Putnam confiscated 89 grams of heroin. In 2011, those detectives took in 446 grams, 400 of which were seized during a raid of a Charleston house in March of that year.
Last year, they brought in 566 grams.
"We can buy heroin easier now than we can buy crack," Napier said. "It used to be the other way around.
"They knew once they got pills introduced here, there would be a market for heroin."
Authorities say it's cheaper for addicts to buy heroin than highly priced pills. At one point a single Opana pill was selling on the street for at least $80. Napier said a single stamp of heroin, or a bindle, could be purchased for $20 or $30.
"The pills are expensive, but heroin's a little cheaper fix," Napier said. "The drug dealers know once you get them hooked on the pills, you can sell heroin."
He said usage of the drug was spreading through Kanawha County and into outlying communities. Most of it comes from Detroit, but some comes from New York and Florida.
"They're not seeing it in Logan as much or Boone," Napier said. "But they will."
Authorities in Putnam County are trying to head it off before the problem gets worse.
Luikart, who worked more than 17 years with the drug unit, said the sheriff's office was looking at ways to add manpower to their drug unit. They've already begun the process.
He said someone from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is serving with the drug unit. A full-time intelligence analyst also works with the drug unit. Their job is to provide in-depth information on suspects for detectives.
"The information they can get for us can make a case," Luikart said. "To have a full-time intel analyst is invaluable."
Luikart said the Putnam County Sheriff's Office is a participant in the Metro Drug Unit and hopes to pull more Putnam agencies into the fold. He said some federal agencies also have offices in the county.
"At this point we don't have a corner where people just stand and sell dope," Luikart said. "And we don't want that either, so we're working to prevent that."
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.cr...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.