#404 Heroin In The Heartland

Date: Sun, 31 May 2009
Subject: #404 Heroin In The Heartland

HEROIN IN THE HEARTLAND

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #404 – Sunday, 31 May 2009

For the New York Times to publish the major article below and leave
out so much that could have been included is a shame. The Sunday
edition of the New York Times is the most widely read Sunday newspaper
in the United States.

Your letters to the editor could focus on many points, but the letters
most likely to be printed will contain no more than two or three.

Just a few examples:

If the drug treatment industry, drug courts, and needle exchange
programs were encouraged – perhaps even required and provided with the
needed funding – to provide users with anti-overdose kits and teach
their use countless lives could be saved. The kits contain Naloxone.
Naloxone works to block the effects of morphine, codeine, heroin,
methadone, oxycontin, percocet, hydrocodone, fentanyl and
hydromorphone. People can’t overdose on Naloxone, the generic form of
the brand-name drug, Narcan. If it’s injected into someone who hasn’t
taken any opiates, it runs through the body as harmlessly as saline
solution.

The two immigrants are victims also. Draconian sentences as if they
were drug kingpins is just another example of a drug war gone wild.

If the DEA did not get between doctors and patients then pain
management would be more effective. Less patients would turn to street
drugs for relief.

To focus on the drug cartels is simply blame shifting.

Our drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has called for “a complete
public-health model for dealing with addiction.” If that is to happen
your support for the change from past policies is needed, not only
through your letters but also by your contacts with our elected
representatives.

Some of the links to MAP archived articles now and in the future
related to this topic include the following:

http://www.mapinc.org/topic/Naloxone

http://www.mapinc.org/rehab.htm (Treatment)

http://www.mapinc.org/find?132 (Heroin Overdose)

http://www.mapinc.org/find?131 (Heroin Maintenance)

http://www.mapinc.org/find?142 (Supervised Injection Sites)

http://www.mapinc.org/find?137 (Needle Exchange)

http://www.mapinc.org/hr.htm (Harm Reduction)

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Pubdate: Sun, 31 May 2009

Source: New York Times (NY)

Page: A1, Front Page

Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company

Contact: letters@nytimes.com

Author: Randal C. Archibold

IN HEARTLAND DEATH, TRACES OF HEROIN’S SPREAD

GROVE CITY, Ohio — For five hours, Dana Smith huddled stunned and
bewildered in her suburban living room while the body of her son
Arthur Eisel IV, 31, lay slumped in an upstairs bathroom, next to a
hypodermic needle.

Family and friends streamed in. Detectives scurried about. For Mrs.
Smith, the cold realization set in that her oldest son Artie — quiet,
shy, car enthusiast, football and softball fanatic — was dead of a
heroin overdose.

The death was the end of a particular horror for Mrs. Smith, whose two
other children, Mr. Eisel’s younger brothers, also fell into heroin
addiction “like dominoes,” she said, and still struggle with it.

To the federal government, which prosecuted the heroin dealers for Mr.
Eisel’s death, it was a stark illustration of how Mexican drug cartels
have pushed heroin sales beyond major cities into America’s suburban
and rural byways, some of which had seen little heroin before.

In Ohio, for instance, heroin-related deaths spread into 18 new
counties from 2004 to 2007, the latest year for which statistics are
available. Their numbers rose to 546 in that period, from 376 for 2000
to 2003.

Federal officials now consider the cartels the greatest organized
crime threat to the United States. Officials say the groups are taking
over heroin distribution from Colombians and Dominicans and making new
inroads across the country, pushing a powerful form of heroin grown
and processed in Mexico known as “black tar” for its dark color and
sticky texture.

Their operations often piggyback on a growing and struggling Mexican
immigrant population. In a case that provides a window into how this
works, two illegal immigrant dealers pleaded guilty to manslaughter
last year in Mr. Eisel’s death, in a rare federal manslaughter
prosecution from a drug overdose.

Investigators determined that the two immigrants, Jose Manuel
Cazeras-Contreras, 30, and Victor Delgadillo Parra, 23, began
distributing heroin when they were unable to find jobs. Mr. Parra, in
an interview from prison, where he was sentenced to spend 16 1/2
years, said he was afraid of being arrested at first, but took the job
to support his wife and son, as well as relatives in Mexico.

“I was living a hard life here in the United States,” Mr. Parra said.
“And I didn’t have any other job I was going to go to.”

Another man in the drug ring, who was not directly connected to the
death and therefore not charged with manslaughter, was recruited off
the streets of Mexico and smuggled into the country expressly to
peddle drugs in Ohio, the government said.

Fat on profits made largely in the United States, drug traffickers in
Mexico are engaged there in a bloody war among themselves and with the
government, which began a crackdown on them three years ago. Since
then the violence, including assaults on the police and the army, has
left more than 10,000 people dead.

But on this side of the border, the traffickers continue to expand
their reach.

Drug Enforcement Administration officials say that Ohio is of
particular concern because of the crisscrossing network of freeways
here that make it well suited as a transshipment point. Anthony C.
Marotta, who heads the agency’s Columbus office, said heroin tied to
the Columbus-area dealers had been cropping up in nearby states like
Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia and as far away as the Baltimore
area.

The case of Arthur Eisel and the men arrested for selling him heroin
shows how the traffickers pushed their product and how in Mr. Eisel,
already addicted to expensive pain killers because of a back injury,
they found a ready customer for heroin, which was cheaper.

Investigators say that Arthur Eisel was not alone in switching from a
prescription painkiller to heroin. It gives a similar, euphoric high
at a fraction of the cost, $10 to $20 for a “balloon” — one dose,
usually a gram or less — as opposed to upwards of $60 for a typical
prescription pill dose on the street.

The traffickers found a ripe market in Grove City, a suburb of
Columbus, as they have elsewhere in the nation. Drug seizures ebb and
flow over the years, but the amount of heroin confiscated nationwide
has been arcing up since the mid-90s, going from 370 kilograms in 1998
nationwide to about 600 kilograms — roughly $150 million worth of
heroin — last year, though officials believe it is a small fraction
of what is available on the street.

The share of heroin-related prosecutions among federal drug cases in
this region has also been climbing, reaching 15 percent of cases last
year compared with 4 percent a decade ago.

The numbers here are small in comparison with other populous states
like New York, California or Texas, which have always been centers of
drug use. But the growth here has prompted much soul-searching.

Mr. Marotta said he had been alarmed recently to see dealing in the
parking lot of a supermarket in Dublin, a quiet, upscale suburb of
Columbus, where he was shopping.

Paul Coleman, the director of Maryhaven, the largest rehabilitation
center in the region, said the percentage of patients reporting
opiates, principally heroin, as their preferred drug — whether it is
smoked, inhaled or injected — grew to 68 percent last year from 38
percent in 2002.

Mr. Coleman said he believed that the trend reflected an increased
supply of heroin.

Mike G., who is undergoing treatment at Maryhaven and asked that his
last name be withheld for fear enemies on the street would find him
there, said, “In some places it is like going to pick up beer.”

A Fatal Link

The group linked to the Mexican cartel that sold Arthur Eisel his
fatal dose was just one of at least 10 trafficking organizations,
known by the authorities as cells, operating in central Ohio, said Tim
Reagan, a D.E.A. agent who investigated the case as part of the
Southwest Border Task Force, a group of Ohio law enforcement officials
focused on drugs coming from Mexico.

Each cell consists of a handful of people who distribute the drug
after it is smuggled across the Southwest border, 1,500 miles away.
Many cell members, like Mr. Parra and Mr. Contreras, have roots in
Nayarit, a state on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Mexican authorities say that growers in Nayarit are using a highly
productive form of the poppy from Colombia and processing the heroin
in laboratories scattered around Tepic, Nayarit’s capital, despite
efforts to kill the plants through fumigation.

The cells take orders over disposable mobile phones, making it hard
for the police to trace them or their calls. They use a system of
“dispatchers” and “runners” to take orders and deliver the drug.
Members of the cells typically stay in an area for only four or five
months before replacements arrive. The drugs are sold at rendezvous
points, usually in shopping center parking lots, in an effort to blend
in with the bustle.

The men convicted in the Eisel case told the authorities similar
stories. Mr. Contreras, the dispatcher in the case, told federal
authorities that he had crossed the border illegally and lived in
Oregon for several years before moving to Columbus in 2007 on the
promise of a job as an auto mechanic. But that job never materialized.
In a letter to The New York Times, he said he had worked a variety of
other jobs but had hit an unemployment streak that left him without a
car or a house for his wife and two young children.

Desperate for work, he said he found an acquaintance in Columbus who
promised him easy money for distributing heroin.

“Since I spoke English and Spanish, they proposed that I answer the
phone only,” Mr. Contreras wrote. “I didn’t touch the drug or see it.
I was only answering the phone. I was with them for three months, and
that was when they caught me.”

He said he never imagined that anyone could die from the heroin,
“since I have used the drug and nothing ever happened to me.”

Mr. Parra said he illegally crossed the border in 2005 and settled in
California, working in the kitchen of a seafood restaurant for several
months. When that work and other jobs dried up, friends suggested he
come to Ohio for work. But when he arrived, Mr. Parra said, he learned
that the work would be helping to distribute heroin.

At turns repentant and defiant, Mr. Parra said he felt sorry for the
family of Mr. Eisel but did not fully accept responsibility for his
death and wondered aloud if the government was making an example of
him.

“It was never my intention for someone to die,” Mr. Parra said, “but
neither did I put a syringe or something in somebody so that they
could inject the drug,” adding, “I am serving as an example” to
discourage other dealers.

Jose Garcia Morales, a third man who was arrested in the case but was
not prosecuted for the death of Mr. Eisel, was recruited off the
streets of Nayarit’s capital, according to a memorandum his lawyer
prepared for the court in urging a lenient sentence.

The document describes how the ring arranged for the payment of a
“coyote,” or human smuggler, to bring Mr. Morales across the border.
Then, he piled into the back of a Ryder truck, was driven to Columbus
and, over a two-week training period, was taught to deliver heroin by
other drug traffickers already established there.

“Mr. Morales was promised that he would make a lot of money,” the
document said. “In reality, when he was paid, if it all, he generally
received between $400 and $500 a week, a place to sleep, and
occasionally some food. As expected, Mr. Morales sent much of the
money he earned back to his family in Mexico.”

Connecting the distribution rings to the cartel leadership in Mexico
has proved difficult. Those arrested here typically say they fear for
the safety of their families in Mexico if word gets back that they
have been too cooperative.

“If they are caught, they are terrified what will happen to their
families, and for good reason,” said David M. DeVillers, a federal
prosecutor here who has handled several drug cases. “They want to do
the prison time.”

The authorities say that local arrests rarely make a difference. New
dealers pop up within weeks.

“It’s like sweeping sunshine off the roof,” Mr. Marotta of the D.E.A.
said.

Shared Addictions

Standing before a federal judge last summer as he faced the prospect
of 20 years in prison on manslaughter charges in Mr. Eisel’s death,
Mr. Contreras begged for forgiveness.

“I truly did not intend to do any damage to their family,” said Mr.
Contreras, 30, before the judge handed down a 15-year sentence. “I
have two children, and I would not like something like this to happen
to my sons.”

Dana Smith listened, horrified. At home, her two younger sons were
still struggling with addiction.

Arthur had been, in her eyes, a typical suburban child, shy around
girls, a devotee of the radio host Howard Stern, a member of a local
softball league, popular with the children of friends.

He eventually found work as a bank clerk and rented an apartment with
one of his brothers, Robby. Robby Eisel, who is undergoing treatment
at a residential center in Columbus, said the progression from
prescription medicine to heroin was easy “because the heroin is
everywhere around here.”

When Arthur Eisel injured his back in a car accident in 2005, he
started taking prescription medication, Percocet and OxyContin, for
chronic pain, under a doctor’s supervision.

Robby Eisel said he had been taking similar medications after he broke
his arm on the job as a maintenance worker at a golf course. Soon, all
three brothers were acquiring OxyContin illegally and sharing it. When
supplies dried up and their dealer suggested heroin, they tried it and
quickly developed an addiction.

Mrs. Smith said she struggled to comprehend what took hold of her
sons. She works as a clerk at a courthouse and had seen the regular
parade of drug addicts and offenders come through. But one day in
2007, she heard the name of two of her boys, Arthur and Robby,
announced in arraignment court. They had broken into a store.

“It was devastating,” she said.

More horrors came. She would find needles in pillow cases, in coats,
under living room chairs. She watched her sons writhe in agony from
head and bone pain and diarrhea as they experienced withdrawal trying
to beat the addiction at home.

Mrs. Smith said she sometimes feels pangs of guilt and wonders if she
could have done more to help Arthur break the addiction. She concedes
that she gave him food, a place to stay and sometimes even money when
his stupor made clear what he was up to.

“I was an enabler,” she said quietly. “I was his mother.”

At one point, she called a private rehabilitation facility in Florida,
hoping to get all of her sons in treatment. But she was told the
facility did not accept siblings.

“Which one has it the worst?” she recalled a counselor there
asking.

The question still gnaws at her.

“How do you choose which one of your children to save?” Mrs. Smith
asks now. She decided at the time that she could not choose and sent
none of them to Florida.

Regret and Resolve

Arthur Eisel went through a revolving door of treatment centers in the
Columbus area in the months before his death. He would get free of the
drug, seemingly set on a positive path only to relapse and fall into
it again. But, his family said, he did not appear to be using heavily
in the weeks before his death.

The night before he died, he and his brother Ryan paid their mother a
visit, watching television there until late in the evening.

At work the next morning, Mrs. Smith got the kind of call parents
dread. She remembers hearing Ryan say, “His lips are blue.” Mrs. Smith
spent the next months in a state of shock. She said she does not
remember much.

As it turned out, investigators had already been trailing the ring
that sold Arthur his fatal dose. That work, in addition to
confidential informants whose testimony would have allowed
investigators to trace Mr. Eisel’s dose to Mr. Parra and Mr.
Contreras, emboldened prosecutors to charge them with manslaughter and
other crimes.

Prosecutors asked Mrs. Smith to go to the sentencing hearings and make
a statement. She stood feet from the men accused of killing her son
and listened to their words of regret.

“Part of my heart goes out to their families,” she said in a recent
interview. “But something has got to be done to stop this.”

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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