HAZLETON — You can’t arrest your way out of a heroin problem.
The city’s interim Police Chief Jerry Speziale said, although arresting those guilty of drug-related crimes is necessary, it certainly isn’t the complete answer.
Speziale said a rash of heroin-related overdoses in Hazleton and surrounding areas could be attributable to several scenarios.
“It could be that someone got clean and then used again and didn’t have the same tolerance as they previously had,” he said. “Or, it could be that the drug was mixed with fentanyl.”
Fentanyl, he said, is a powerful synthetic painkiller often linked to overdoses.
According to Speziale, his sources at the New York High Intensity Drug Trafficking areas, aimed at measurably reducing illegal drug use and the harm it causes, say a lot of drugs coming through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York are laced with Fentanyl.
“I’ve seen a marked increase in overdoses within the last 30 days,” he said. “We haven’t been able to definitely identify the problem yet, but we’re investigating.”
He said that, unfortunately, Narcan, a drug used by first responders to reverse the effects of the opiate, is often ineffective.
“Sometimes, Narcan can work and sometimes, synthetics are simply too strong,” he said.
Speziale said many addicts are trying to recreate the euphoria of their first high.
“They will never get the same effect in their lives, but they keep trying,” he said. “It’s what they call ‘chasing the dragon’.”
Speziale said sometimes that chase begins with a simple sports injury or a fall.
“They are prescribed oxycodone and then they start snorting or shooting it,” he said. “And then they realize they are paying $35 per pill and they can buy a bag of dope for $3.”
Speziale said law enforcement’s approach to the problem of drug use and addiction must be a comprehensive one.
He said programs utilizing drugs including Vivitrol, Antabuse, Suboxone and Campral can help an addict who wants help. The substance creates an aversion to opioids and sometimes stops the craving.
Unfortunately, he said, those who most need the drugs cannot afford them.
“Vivitrol costs over $1,000 a month,” he said. “And it’s capable of taking the thoughts and craves.”
Speziale said law enforcement’s approach to the problem must be collaborative, measurable and broad in scope.
The solution, he said, doesn’t come easily or without cost.
He said he is looking into an “anti-heroin” grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“I don’t know if Hazleton is qualified for the grant,” he said. “But, if not, I’m going to look into other grants aimed at fighting drugs. I’m a grant guy.”