Heroin in RI

It was a year ago last week when police announced they’d arrested eleven for heroin trafficking in Providence. At the time, it was considered a significant bust and the three kilos of heroin an impressive amount to get off the streets.

On the anniversary of that notable arrest, the The United States District Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island announced that two had been sentenced for trafficking in heroin. The two, Jorge Estrada and Angel Feliz, were sentenced to 10 years and 6 years respectively. But they weren’t connected to the bust a year ago. Instead, these two were arrested in October of last year, and they had six times the amount of heroin as the previous incident. At almost 40 pounds of heroin, this now ranks as the largest amount ever seized in Rhode Island.

So what’s up? Well, narcotics are the drug of choice for the northeastern US. And we sit between two huge supply bases: New York and Boston. Providence has the customers too. As far back as 2001, Rhode Island was the number one user of heroin on a per-citizen basis data from NDIC).

Currently, the trend for abusers is to take prescription narcotics as both a gateway to the more powerful heroin and as a convenient substitute. But the demand for heroin isn’t expected to fall much. Unlike other drugs that have a shorter “curve” between first addiction and complete collapse, users of heroin seem to be able to extend their addiction for years, sometimes even decades. And that makes it harder to root out. Addicts may be loyal to their supplier and loath to “rat,” and the networks have stable customer bases to rely on long-term.

Even without the dramatic busts of traffickers, we can count on having heroin addicts among us for the foreseeable future. The solution, if there is one, may be to offer addicts a choice and move them to the less damaging opiates – either methadone or Suboxone.

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