Pubdate: Sun, 01 Dec 2013
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR)
Copyright: 2013 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.
Author: Tom Jackman, The Washington Post
Page: 7A


WASHINGTON - On a gloomy Friday night in the jail of northern
Virginia's Prince William County, a 36-year-old woman took a deep
breath and pondered how she ended up in a windowless, cinder-block
room. She had been an elite middle-school math teacher, married, with
two children and a house in nearby Stafford County.

But her gradual progression from occasional cocaine use to
prescription pain pill abuse to full-blown heroin addiction destroyed
her life. She faces serious legal troubles and a lifetime of addiction

"It took away everything and everybody I ever loved or cared about,"
she said. "My career, my home, my children - you name it, it's gone."

When Prince William police decided this summer to target dealers of
prescription pills, the stereotypical suburban drug, they saw
something even more troubling: Many residents had switched to heroin
because it was cheaper and easier to get. So officers expanded the
investigation's scope to heroin, and Tuesday they rounded up 31
purported dealers of pills or heroin and filed charges against 10 more
in a day-long sweep.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are finding the same
pills-to-heroin trend. In June, Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy
administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified before
Congress that prescription drug abuse was rapidly rising, behind only
marijuana in illicit use, and that "some users of prescription opiates
turn to heroin, a much cheaper opiate that provides a similar 'high.'"

"This cycle has been confirmed by police agencies throughout the
country, who are now reporting an increase in heroin use by teens and
young adults who began their cycle of abuse with prescription
opiates," Rannazzisi said.

Police in Baltimore, Chicago, Michigan, Washington state and the
suburbs of Philadelphia have reached the same conclusion. Measures to
reduce prescription drug abuse - by adjusting the chemistry of such
pills as oxycodone to make them less desirable or through increased
penalties - have pushed addicts to heroin.

"Sadly, prescription pills have become the staging area and connection
between alcohol or marijuana and heroin and other drugs," said Joe
Peters, senior executive deputy attorney general of

The sweep in Prince William County included search warrants, including
one for the Bristow, Va., home of a 21-year-old purported heroin
dealer whose child, 2 years old, was inside. Marijuana smoke billowed
out, and heroin paraphernalia was in plain view. Officers also
searched the Manassas, Va., home of a 68-year-old alleged pill
merchant, who police said had been dealing thousands of dollars' worth
of pills every week for 10 years.

Prince William police believe three recent fatal overdoses were from
heroin, although toxicology tests aren't complete.

"It's everywhere, not just here," said Dave Ehrhardt, a veteran Prince
William street crimes detective. "Everyone who's into doping has a
different story of how they became addicted. But the ending is always
the same."

One 32-year-old woman from Manassas reflects the human toll. She
started taking oxycodone, which cost $80 for an 80-milligram dose,
because, she said, "I had a doctor prescribing anything I wanted." The
doctor was later arrested, but by then the woman had switched from
"oxy" to "roxy," or roxicodone, a similar opiate that was more readily
available on the street.

She spent her days working just enough to make money to get

She said she moved from pain pills, which she crushed and snorted, to
smoking crack for a time. Then she went back to roxicodone. But "you
can't afford $80 for a pill," she said. "That's why the dope [heroin]
came in. Plus, you couldn't get the oxys anymore" because of police
crackdowns, "so people just started to go to dope."

The cost still was prohibitive.

"I wiped out my family business," she said.

She is now taking suboxone, a drug similar to methadone, to ease off
heroin and helping police find dealers in Prince William.

On a recent night, finding dealers of pills or heroin was no problem
for the county's narcotics squad. Inside a detective's car in a busy
parking lot, a hidden transmitter recorded a dealer offering far more
weight and variety of drugs than the undercover detective could afford
- - and he had brought plenty of money. Elsewhere on the same night, a
heroin dealer was filmed walking up to an informant's car and selling
numerous small bags of the powder.

The police dubbed the investigation "Operation Blue Dragon" - the blue
for the color of many pain pills, the dragon indicating heroin.

"Pills and heroin go hand in hand," said Detective Caillen Smith, who
helped oversee the operation. "It's the same type of addiction - an
opiate addiction."

He said illicit dealers of pain pills typically charge $1 per
milligram, or $30 for a 30-milligram pill, of which several are
required by addicts over the course of a day. Heroin costs $20 to $25
for one tenth of a gram, which lasts longer.

In the past, the stigma of using heroin stopped some from making the
leap, Sgt. Matt McCauley said. But an opiate addiction makes it "a
real easy transition to get over that stigma, that hurdle, to get into
heroin. These are not what people think of as heroin junkies. But the
reality is it's all around us."

The Prince William middle school teacher who lived in Stafford met all
the stereotypes of a happy suburban homemaker, although she also had
the hidden stresses of family health crises and marital problems.
Overall, though, most of the 2000s were "the best years of my life. I
was an elite math teacher, very highly respected."

She said things changed after her marriage collapsed, and she began
dating a cocaine dealer. She said he switched his product to
prescription pills, such as Xanax and roxicodone, because they were
more profitable. That's where she got her start.

In 2010, after she'd broken up with him, she found a doctor in Fairfax
County who would prescribe pain pills covered by her insurance. But
the doctor required her to pay cash for her office visits. Ehrhardt
said this is a way for doctors to fly under the investigators' radar.

She popped the expensive pills, then later crushed and injected them
three or four times a day. Later, when that process of office visits
and insurance became too difficult, she switched to heroin. At her
school, she was suspected of using drugs and was closely monitored,
but she said she lied and kept working until finally her boyfriend's
arrest dragged her down, too.

A web of similar stories radiated from each house swarmed by tactical
officers and detectives Tuesday. A purported dealer in Bristow is
suspected of providing the heroin used in a recent nonfatal overdose.
Neighbors at some of the busts said they'd been complaining about the
drug dealing for years; police said they had more complaints than they
could handle. As a SWAT team approached the Bristow house, it came
across a parked car with two men smoking marijuana inside. Two more

 From the house at a busy intersection, Ehrhardt said, 68-year-old
Wayne Houston had been selling 300 to 400 prescription pills a week
for years, at $35 to $45 per pill, and an informant told police that
he had been active for 10 years. Houston watched from a squad car as
detectives removed his safe, cracked it open and found numerous
bottles of prescription drugs. He was charged with four felony counts
of distribution of a controlled substance.
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