About a year ago, the Department of Justice identified a major heroin trafficking highway that runs directly between Williamsport and Philadelphia. Dealers would purchase the drug wholesale in Philadelphia and sell it in the Greater Williamsport area for twice the price, law enforcement officials say.
"Heroin coming into this area comes primarily from Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia," said Old Lycoming police Sgt. Christopher Kriner.
"They can purchase ... heroin in Philadelphia or Newark for $5 a packet. They can sell it in Williamsport for $10 or more."
In turn, Williamsport has become a wholesale distribution center for dealers who live in more rural parts of the state.
"Go to Lock Haven or Wellsboro and (a bag of heroin) is sold for upward of $25," Kriner said.
Heroin is sold in small glassanine "stamp bags" printed with words or phrases in an attempt to market a particular "brand" and create customer loyalty.
According to city police Capt. Michael Orwig, users in the city are often white, in their mid-20s. Maybe they've abused prescription opiates in the past with no long-term effect and have been lured into a false sense of security, he said.
"We see these kids who think they're invincible, that they can control their drug use. But heroin isn't a weekend party drug, it's a commitment. You can turn yourself into a junky after only one use," said Orwig.
"Heroin is a dangerous drug. In my opinion, it's the most dangerous drug out there. It's a notoriously hard drug habit to break," Kriner said.
The high price of prescription opiate medication often leads addicts to try heroin, authorities say.
"I think one of the reasons why heroin is becoming such a huge problem is that more people are willing to try ... combating their prescription pain addiction with heroin," said
But the financial devastation of heroin addiction doesn't end with the addict. Heroin use often leads to a life of crime.
"The bottom line is, eventually if you're addicted, you end up robbing and stealing; doing what you have to do to get the money you need for drugs," said Montoursville Police Chief Jeff Gyurina.
Addicts also pose a threat to public safety. In the past year, police have seen heroin addicts overdose in public parks, grocery store and gas station bathrooms, and even while driving.
"I've talked to people who are addicted so badly that they can't wait until they get home. They're purchasing out on the street and shooting up as soon as they get back into their car, then driving high and nodding out," said South Williamsport Police Chief Robert Hetner.
"We've noticed a trend where people are either scoring or shooting up in business parking lots, restaurants, or inside their vehicles in public places," said South Williamsport police Sgt. James Taylor.
Even when authorities have identified an addict, their hands often are tied.
"In some cases, depending on what they have or don't have on them, we may only have a paraphernalia charge or possession of a controlled substance," said Hetner.