Our View | Fight heroin at home and on the streets

February 8, 2014 

Centre County has a heroin problem.

That’s the word from law-enforcement professionals, doctors and government leaders.

That’s a truth known by grieving parents.

And that reality was in full evidence Thursday, when 10 suspected heroin dealers were charged in a sting led by the state’s Attorney General’s Office.

The scourge of heroin is in the national spotlight following the overdose of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman last weekend, and more than 20 deaths recently from heroin laced with Fentanyl, a powerful analgesic, in the Pittsburgh area.

And the issue is growing in our own backyards.

Parents need to be talking with their children, even very young ones, about the risks of all drugs and especially heroin, which experts say is among the most addictive narcotics around.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller called heroin abuse “a community issue” that often begins not with hardened street criminals but in our homes and medicine cabinets.

That’s where experimentation with narcotics often starts, Parks Miller said.

She said there is an undeniable link between prescription drug addiction and “switching” to heavier drugs such as heroin, especially as police and drug companies make it harder for people to get their hands on prescription drugs.

“Adults, protect your RX meds,” Parks Miller said in an email. “Kids were getting easy access to Ritalin, Vicodin, oxy … This is the shift and still a gateway ... pills to heroin.”

Law-enforcement officials dropped some scary statistics on us Thursday.

The heroin sting involved witnesses who said two of the suspects were making trips to Philadelphia several times a week, with each trip bringing 250 to 500 bags of heroin into our region.

Another witness told investigators that heroin came to Centre County from Newark, N.J., including two trips totaling more than 1,000 bags in 2012.

The grand jury presentment in this drug case also shows an exchange between suspects that involved two to four bricks of heroin, each containing 50 bags, as often as three times per week.

One incident cited by the investigators involved the brazen sale to a police informant of 30 bags of heroin right out of the trunk of a car in downtown State College.

The dealers can make four times as much selling the heroin here as they do in Philadelphia, Anthony Sassano, regional director of the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation office, said.

And the dealers actually are safer distributing their product here. They’re unlikely to get robbed, Parks Miller said, because they’re connecting with “low-risk customers.”

The heroin operation that culminated in Thursday’s arrests began several years ago and also involved a major bust last year in Pleasant Gap.

The sting came one week after a heroin bust at the Imperial Motor Inn in downtown State College.

The district attorney said Pennsylvania ranks third nationally for heroin use. The nonprofit organization Trust for America’s Health in October said Pennsylvania has the 14th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country.

“The hub is Philly,” Parks Miller said, “and we are right in that nexus.”

We applaud all involved with the effort that culminated in Thursday’s major drug bust.

We know law-enforcement agencies will continue to track heroin and arrest suspected dealers. Schools play a role in the education of young people concerning the risks of drug use.

And experts say prevention begins with parents, who can help by talking often with their children about drugs and alcohol, supporting them in the fight against peer pressure, by providing environments that are safe and by helping their children get help when a problem occurs.

We are glad that these suspected dealers and the drugs are off our streets, but we must remain vigilant.

Given the circumstances at work, others are likely to move in and attempt to take their places.

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