CHALMETTE, LA (WVUE) - A killer drug is causing major problems in communities across the region. Heroin, a highly addictive drug, has law enforcement agencies working non-stop to crack down on users and dealers.
The St. Bernard Parish narcotics unit, led by Maj. Chad Clark, gears up to execute a warrant. It's just one part of a much larger operation to crack down on heroin dealers and users. A team of parish agents, DEA and State Troopers quietly gather and then storm a Chalmette home. Within minutes, the occupants of the house are handcuffed and read their rights.
Their target - Brandy prosper - is caught.
"When we made entry into the house, obviously everybody was sleeping," Clark said. "What she's telling us now is that she's just starting to get sick, so in order for her to get her fix, they were about to wake up, go elsewhere to go buy their dope."
Clark said Prosper is also a heroin user whom deputies previously caught on video selling to another person. He said the other occupants of the house - her husband, Calogero Carbello and Robert Allen - are also heroin addicts.
"It's a tough battle," said St. Bernard Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann. "There's so many different components that go into trying to fix these problems with the drugs."
Police say heroin, described as the most potent and highly addictive drug, has also become the most frequently used among opiate-dependent addicts. In St. Bernard Parish, the fight to get the drug off the street is constant.
"You can't profile," Pohlmann said. "It doesn't matter your race, it doesn't matter whether you're rich or whether you're poor. They're in every neighborhood."
Once outside of Prosper's house Clark speaks to the three heroin suspects about the seriousness of what's happening.
"What ya'll doing here is not fair to the rest of this damn neighborhood," he said. "There are people here that's trying to do right. Ya'll got dealers showing up. Ya'll don't know the background of this guy ya'll been dealing with for the last couple of weeks, and ya'll got him coming into this neighborhood. Do you think it's fair to your neighbors? You think it's fair to the kids that's trying to ride their bikes up and down the street every day?"
In order to get some perspective on how heroin makes its way to the street- level dealers, FOX 8 spoke exclusively with someone deputies call a mid-level dealer.
"I basically went out into high populated areas, dense areas, and watched people. I watched the traffic," he said.
The alleged dealer, who is already in police custody, agreed to talk to us only if could remain anonymous. He said selling was easy, and admitted after making a connection with only one user, his business took off.
"From there, it was just like a pyramid effect," he said. "It just spread. It was like a whole drug networking system. It's like a user networking system. They all know each other. They just started giving my number out everywhere."
The alleged dealer said he has never used heroin, but he quickly learned that addicts are extremely good customers.
"They're going to want more to satisfy their urges or the sickness that they get when they don't have it, cause you learn it's a chemical dependency in the body and actually you're bones and stuff start aching," he said. "It's like you get an arthritic pitch all through your body because it's missing that chemical element it needs to function."
He also said heroin users will do just about anything to get their hands on the drug.
"Uh, they'll tell you whatever," he said. "I mean, they'll say pretty much anything. I mean they'll give you their first born. I mean, you could say, I want your first born and they'll say, 'ok.'"
Heroin can be smoked, snorted or injected.
"They take a spoon, put it on the spoon, dilute it with a little bit of water, suck it up into the needle and then shoot it," Clark said.
Users who inject the drug expose themselves to the additional risks of contracting diseases, getting scarred or collapsed veins and infections of the heart, liver and kidney.
"I have been in this business for well over 20 years," said DEA Special Agent Keith Brown. "I've talked to a lot of heroin addicts. I have never met one that didn't start with a prescription medicine addiction and then they transitioned to heroin."
He said heroin use now is an epidemic that's tearing families apart and killing people every day.
"Today it's hard to pick out a heroin addict," Brown said. "They are flight attendants, they're nurses. They're doctors and they're teachers, and unfortunately they're kids. The fastest growing users of heroin are teens and people in their early 20s."
He says in most cases heroin users begin with an addiction to prescription medication that spirals out of control.
"The next thing you know, they start stepping away from that legitimate use just a little bit - I need some sleep, I need to relax - and they keep stepping away from it, and the next thing you know, they are addicted. So they now have to find more of these painkillers."
The prescription drugs, though, can become extremely hard to get. Brown points to the recent federal and state crackdown that's helped to slow down the amount of medication that can be prescribed.
"Unfortunately, the heroin traffickers know that, and they are just laying in wait."
State and federal agents are now teaming up with local law enforcement agencies to busting both the users and the dealers.
"We're going to stop it," Clark said. "We are going to work day and night until we stop the whole deal. I don't give a sh** if you're from here, in the city, all the way down to South America. Guess what? It's going to stop. We're not going to sleep until we stop it."
While investigators vow to continue their fight to eliminate the drug, heroin is showing up in communities no one expected.
"Five years ago, 10 years ago, we never saw heroin," Brown said. "There was no heroin here. Now it's everywhere."
Heroin can easily lead to death, and because of the overwhelming addiction it creates, agents say arresting our way out of the problem isn't an option.
"One way is clearly education," Pohlmann said. "Education has to be at all levels, especially in schools. I think they need to put the money on the front end of this instead of the back end of this."
Pohlmann said educating the younger generation about the dangers of heroin is key, because at some point, it may become too late for the users.
In the meantime, law enforcement work to attack the problem at all levels with an ultimate goal of finding the people who are selling it.
"Just because the guy is dealing in the Ninth Ward and New Orleans East or Houma – wherever - we are going to get them too," Clark said. "It doesn't matter. That's why we have all these different agencies here with us."
"We are going to pursue these types of cases because heroin is so deadly, and it's so destructive to the families and to the communities," Brown said.
St. Bernard deputies said heroin deaths are trending down in the parish, and they believe it's because of the department's major focus on cracking down on drug users and dealers.