Heroin takes toll on region
Within minutes after injecting heroin inside a public rest room at a business in South Williamsport, the young father was arrested and taken to borough police headquarters to be processed.
The man’s girlfriend arrived at the station to pick him up. She had traveled an hour from their home and brought the couple’s three children with her. Two were toddlers and the third was believed to be elementary school age.
“The expression on the mother’s face was one of desperation,” borough Police Chief Robert Hetner said, recalling the drug arrest.
Hetner pulled the heroin-addicted father aside and spoke sternly to him.
“Look what you have here. Look at how these kids are suffering because you’re in Williamsport buying drugs. They’re being sacrificed because of you,” Hetner told the man.
The father said nothing and just shrugged his shoulders like it did not mean anything to him, Hetner said.
“He acted like he was telling me that ‘Well, I need it. I’m addicted to heroin,'” Hetner said.
“Families are being destroyed. Families who felt they did everything they could to raise their children properly, to the best of their abilities, yet the family ends up being destroyed because of what drug users do. They steal from their families,” Hetner said.
It’s heartbreaking to watch, veteran police officers said.
“Heroin is so demanding, so overpowering that it just dictates your life,” Old Lycoming Township Police Chief William Solomon said.
“I’ve seen mothers dragging their children around in dirty diapers to buy their heroin. I’ve seen drug dealers get in the back seat of a car and hand the heroin over the top of a child in a car seat to the mother in the front seat,” Solomon said.
Facing problem daily
From Hughesville to Jersey Shore, heroin has become a problem that police departments have had to deal with more and more in the past two years. In some cases, weary cops are having to cope with the problem almost every day.
“In the last two years, we’ve seen a lot of heroin use. It’s at a point now that we deal with it on a daily basis. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have an incident related to heroin,” Solomon said.
If it is not arresting someone using or selling heroin, officers are more likely investigating a burglary or a theft that turns out to be committed by someone trying to support their addiction by selling stolen items to get cash, Solomon said.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that there isn’t someone shooting up (heroin) here in the township. You can go to just about anywhere in the township, anytime of the day and you will find people who are purchasing heroin or using it,” he added.
In Montoursville, Police Chief Jeffrey Gyurina said his department has seen a spike of 80 percent in shoplifting arrests, many of them committed by those he said were addicted to heroin.
“We hit a drug house last year in the city. We found five new television sets, all still in their boxes that were stolen from one business in the borough,” Gyurina, who is also a member of the county’s Drug Task Force, said.
“Drug dealers will take a user’s stolen television set in exchange for drugs. ‘Here, we’ll give you the heroin you want, you give me that TV,'” Gyurina said.
Police chiefs interviewed said heroin is so accessible in Williamsport because it can be purchased there so cheaply.
“The way I see it, Williamsport got hit with a nuclear bomb, and the shock waves have come out to all the rest of us. We’re just getting the ripple effect of what’s going on in the city,” Gyurina said.
“Williamsport was Ground Zero when that heroin bomb exploded” he added.
Heroin drug violence erupted in Montoursville on the afternoon of May 28 when two drug dealers, armed with guns, broke into a man’s apartment in the 300 block of Jordan Avenue and began firing several shots at the tenant because he had stolen a large amount of heroin from the two dealers.
The tenant ran for his life and escaped injury. Two arrests were made in the case.
“In all the years I’ve been here, that was certainly in the top three, if not the most terrible act of violence to happen inside the borough, where you actually had two people with guns who were purposefully chasing someone and trying to shoot them,” Gyurina, a member of the police department for nearly 18 years, said.
He said he looked back at that day of gunfire with “mixed emotions.”
A matter of time
“Part of me said, ‘This happened in little Montoursville? That’s hard to believe.’ However, on the other hand, with what you have going on in the city, the drugs, the violence, it was just a matter of time until something happened like that (in the outlying areas),” Gyurina said.
A veteran Williamsport police officer agreed, saying the heroin problem in the city “was out of control.”
It was a news event last year when city police handled in one day three cases of people becoming ill from heroin use at three different locations.
“We have days now where we’re just dealing nonstop with calls all related to heroin,” the officer said.
Heroin is scarring cities and small communities.
A heroin addict confessed to committing three armed robberies in Williamsport during a six-day period in October. At about the same time, a 20-year-old Hughesville man admitted to holding up a convenience store clerk in that small borough in order to feed his heroin addiction.
A veteran police officer in Jersey Shore said the Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department is handling a heroin-related call at least once a week.
“We didn’t have this three years ago,” the officer said.
Hetner said heroin use is “a concern for everyone in the community, and people have to understand that.”
“What we’re seeing is people coming to this area to buy it, because they can get it cheaper. For many of them they are so addicted to it that they can’t wait to drive back home to use it. They drive a few blocks, pull into a parking lot and shoot up,” Hetner said.
“If we don’t stop these people and get them off the road, they will be driving for an hour or more to get home, putting other motorists clearly in danger. We know what happens to people who are driving under the influence of controlled substances, you have an added danger out there on the road that is jeopardizing other people’s personal safety,” he said.
Police admit bluntly that they won’t get a handle on the problem anytime soon.
“We are not winning the war on drugs, and we will never win it, because the demand continues to be there. As long as people want to use the drugs, we just can’t win it, no way,” Hetner said.
“That being said, we’re not going to stop what we do. We’re going to do everything we can to try to protect the community,” he added.
Gyurina also said it was an uphill fight.
“I really don’t know how we’re going to get on top of this. I don’t see how we can,” he said.
“Suppose we get a grant that allows all police departments to hire five more cops. So you’ve arrested more heroin users, so what? What’s your next problem? Where do you put them? There is no room at the County Prison. There aren’t enough ankle bracelets for these drug users,” Gyurina said.
“It’s a huge problem, and I don’t have the answer,” he admitted.
“We have to educate the people not to get on this stuff in the first place,” he added.
Not winning the battle
“We’re not winning the battle. We’re not even managing to stay ahead,” he said.
“You have to understand that this problem is so huge that it is going to require a lot more resources than what we have locally,” Solomon said.
“Heroin is a very additive drug. It’s very sad to watch people go through this,” he said.
“We see these young people getting addicted to heroin. Dealers are coming here and actually giving their product away free, just to get people hooked. The dealers know full well that heroin is an addiction that the users will likely not get rid of, so it’s a good business investment for them,” Solomon said.
Hetner said that there “was no question that our resources are being drained by what we’re dealing with and what we’re seeing on the streets when it comes to heroin.”
Police said from what they are seeing, those selling the heroin are not on the drug itself.
“The dealers simply see this as a business. They don’t care about how many lives they ruin. They just worry how much money they can make,” Gyurina said.
Solomon echoed those very thoughts when he said: “These dealers have no conscience whatsoever. It’s all about making money and moving product. They have no compassion for human life. It’s very disturbing.”