By Annette Dashofy
The one session of Citizens’ Police Academy that I missed last time around was the Narcotics Squad. This week, I made up that session. When Sgt. Doug Epler started unpacking his props, I sensed this was going to be interesting. I was especially intrigued by a car battery sitting on the floor among the cases and boxes of drug paraphernalia. Was there a mad scientist in the house?
The Narcotics Squad in Pittsburgh consists of two impact squads, who work at street level; two investigative squads who do more in depth investigations and surveillances; a vice squad who deals with all varieties of prostitution; and a weed-and-seed unit that works off site doing in depth, long-term investigations. Each squad consists of only five or six officers. Each. City-wide.
They are kept very busy.
The number one drug problem in Pittsburgh is heroin. Note: this is not true elsewhere. But here, heroin can be found in any neighborhood, any age, rich or poor, black or white. Inside the city, a stamp bag of heroin runs around $10. In surrounding counties, it might go for $15 to $20 a bag, so folks from outside come into the city to make their purchases.
Sgt. Epler passed around a wide selection of drug-related items. But only fake drugs. Like Cremora instead of the real thing. More on that later.
A stamp bag of heroin is just that. They use the waxed glassine packets used by stamp collectors to package the drug. An addict might use 10 or 20 bags per day. At $10 each, you can see the problem. Small bundles are held together with little hair bands. Fifty stamp bags are bundled into a brick, wrapped in porno paper, the Auto Trader, or newspaper. Why porno paper? As a marketing ploy. Think the prize in a box of Cracker Jack. Buy a brick of heroin, get something extra to entertain yourself with as well.
If you find bits and pieces of torn glassine stamp envelopes and/or discarded hair bands lying around, you might want to contact the police as these are signs of heroin use in your neighborhood.
Users tend to start out snorting the stuff. They believe they aren’t junkies because they aren’t using needles. But after a while, the drug burns out the receptors in their noses and it doesn’t work any longer. That’s when the heroin user turns to the needle.
Heroin use is a team sport. Addicts share with their buddies. Girlfriends and boyfriends share. Sgt. Epler offered a demonstration of the process. Relax. No one was actually injected. The drug is cooked in a spoon. A cigarette is torn apart so that a small portion of the filter can be used to filter sediment from the cooked heroin as it’s drawn into the needle. The needle is stuck into the vein, but the user needs to be certain that he has hit the vein, rather than simply being in the muscle, so he draws back on the plunger until he sees blood enter the syringe. Then he injects part of the heroin. Next, (team sport, remember) his buddy or girlfriend is stuck, the plunger pulled back to draw blood, indicating a good stick, and the rest of the heroin is injected into the second user. That same needle is then capped and saved for the next usage. Perhaps with a different friend.
While the AIDS virus dies quickly, hepatitis will live for four days outside the body. Think about it.
A heroin addict must have his drug as soon as he gets up in the morning. Something like how I need my morning coffee. Except, if I don’t get my coffee, I get cranky. If a heroin addict doesn’t get his fix, he gets horribly sick with cramps and nausea. So every morning, you will see the neighborhood addicts out first thing to score.
So, more signs of heroin use in your neighborhood would be needles and syringes in the street. Diabetics aren’t that careless. If you see needles, it’s heroin.
One of the most interesting aspects of the presentation was the marketing side of the business. There is branding and brand loyalty and brand recognition… The dealer will make up an ink stamp to mark the stamp bags. One such ink stamp is “Why?Not.” Another might be “HellBoy.” A user might like one and not the other, so will seek out his preference. If word gets out that a particular brand is especially deadly, users will rush to buy the stuff up! They think they’re going to do it just right so it doesn’t kill them. Apparently, it’s really good up until the whole dying part.
Sometimes, heroin is transported in the tips of party balloons which are carried in the dealers’ mouths. When a user buys from him, the dealer spits out one of the tiny balloons and the user sticks it in his mouth. This way, if caught, they simply swallow the evidence. Later, when it all comes out in the end, they wash off the balloon and have their party.
If you see small rubber knots from broken balloons lying around, you have drug users in the neighborhood.
Finally, about the Cremora. The cops gained access to a dealer’s phone and called some of his users to say they had stamp bags for sale. Only the stamp bags were filled with Cremora. They used a kid’s sea horse stamp to mark the bags. One buyer didn’t know anything about the sea horse brand, but was desperate and made the purchase. As they attempted to arrest him, he ran away, snorting the Cremora out of the bag. Once caught, he complained that he wasn’t getting high. When told he’d snorted Cremora, he panicked and wanted to go to the hospital to be checked out.
Apparently, he was more concerned about snorting coffee creamer than about snorting heroin.
Next week: Crack cocaine, weed, Meth, and that car battery