Scott County using kits to test for heroin in the field

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Although curbing the production and sale of methamphetamine is the main focus for law enforcement agencies in Southeast Missouri, area authorities are concerned about the increase of drug cases involving heroin.

Scott County Sheriff's Department investigator Branden Caid said earlier this year the department purchased kits designed to test for heroin in the field.

In the last 12 months, tests deputies performed on substances found in vehicles during routine traffic stops were producing negative results for methamphetamine and cocaine, Caid said, and officers weren't able to identify the substance.

"We didn't really have anything to test for heroin. We didn't see it; we didn't expect it," Caid said.

More than a dozen confidential informants for the Scott County Sheriff's Department are telling officers they're starting to see the drug come in from St. Louis and areas out of state, such as Chicago and larger cities in Michigan.

Caid said heroin could also be coming from Charleston, Mo., who he said saw an increase in the drug from 2004 to 2005 when he was a public housing officer in the area.

Caid said to his knowledge, the drug is not being manufactured locally. "It's something that they're bringing back."

Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force supervisor Kevin Glaser said heroin is exclusively an imported drug and there's no opium grown in the United States.

Glaser agrees, however, that the importation of the drug into the jurisdiction is a problem. Since January 2009, the task force has investigated 18 cases involving heroin.

In Cape Girardeau County, although the increase in heroin cases is small, it's noticeable, said Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle. While his office normally files two to three heroin-related charges per year, Swingle said they've filed between seven and 12 cases in 2010.

"It's something I think that's going to increase in popularity as the availability of it begins to increase," Glaser said. "I've been working with narcotics for 20 years and up until about two years ago, we just never saw heroin in our area to any extent at all."

Officers may have a hard time identifying heroin without a field test or without sending it to a lab because it can be packaged in a number of ways, Glaser added. If it's in a bag, and in an off-white powder form, it may be mistaken for cocaine or methamphetamine.

Although the number of heroin convictions remains low in Scott County, about five in the last five years, according to Caid, the department is hoping to be proactive in fighting the drug problem.

"We're trying to find classes that would educate our officers on heroin, a program that would keep us updated on what to watch for as well as the common traits of usage," Caid said.

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