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NDIC seal linked to Home Page. National Drug Intelligence Center
West Virginia Drug Threat Assessment
August 2003

Heroin

Heroin poses a low but increasing threat to West Virginia. Heroin abuse levels in West Virginia are low; however, state and local law enforcement officials report that abuse is increasing in cities such as Martinsburg and Weirton where the drug is being abused as a substitute for OxyContin. Statewide, heroin availability is limited. South American heroin is the type most readily available. Limited quantities of heroin produced in Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia also are available. Caucasian and African American local independent dealers and loosely organized criminal groups, as well as local street gangs such as West Side Posse, are the principal transporters and retail-level distributors of heroin in West Virginia--wholesale-level distribution is limited. Most of the heroin available in West Virginia is transported into the state via private vehicles from Baltimore, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; New York, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland, Columbus, and Steubenville, Ohio; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. Heroin is sold at open-air drug markets as well as from private residences, hotel rooms, and bars in West Virginia.

 

Abuse

Treatment data indicate that the level of heroin abuse in West Virginia is low overall. The number of heroin-related treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities has fluctuated from 214 in 1998 to 138 in 1999 and 160 in 2000, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. (See Table 2 in Overview section.) Males accounted for 59 percent of all heroin-related treatment admissions in 2000.

Law enforcement reporting indicates that heroin abuse levels are high or increasing in some areas. Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug and Violent Crime Task Force officials report that heroin is abused at high levels in their jurisdiction--approximately 80 percent of task force investigations in 2002 were heroin-related. Local law enforcement officials in Barboursville and Martinsburg also report that heroin is abused at high levels. Further, Parkersburg law enforcement officials report that heroin abuse is an emerging problem. Law enforcement officials often attribute the high or increasing levels of heroin abuse in these areas, at least in part, to proactive enforcement efforts that have limited the availability of OxyContin and caused many OxyContin abusers to switch to heroin.

The percentage of youths reporting heroin abuse in West Virginia is comparable to the percentage nationwide. According to 1999 YRBS data, 3.1 percent of West Virginia high school students surveyed reported having abused heroin at least once in their lifetime compared to 2.4 percent nationwide.

Heroin abusers in West Virginia primarily administer the drug via injection, although many novice and younger abusers snort or smoke the drug to avoid contracting needle-borne diseases such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and hepatitis. Many of these abusers mistakenly believe that smoking or snorting heroin will not lead to addiction. However, treatment officials report that most novice abusers become addicted to heroin within 6 months of initial use and, as tolerance levels increase, these abusers begin injecting heroin to obtain a more intense high.

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Availability

Heroin availability is limited statewide. Of the 28 law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 in West Virginia who rated the level of heroin availability in their jurisdictions, 21 reported that heroin was available at low levels. Respondents from Barboursville, Glenville, Wayne, Charleston, and Moundsville reported that heroin was available at moderate levels. One respondent from Martinsburg reported that heroin was available at high levels. South American heroin is the most prevalent type of heroin available in West Virginia, although limited quantities of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin, Southeast Asian heroin, and Southwest Asian heroin also are available.

Seizure statistics, drug-related offenses, and federal sentencing data indicate that heroin availability is limited in West Virginia. Federal law enforcement officials in West Virginia seized 0.1 kilogram of heroin from 1998 through 2002, according to FDSS data. (See Table 4 in Cocaine section.) The Division of Criminal Justice Services reported that 6.1 percent (94) of the 1,538 drug-specific offenses reported in 2002 involved heroin. The percentage of drug-related federal sentences in West Virginia involving heroin was lower than the national percentage in FY2001. According to USSC data, 5.9 percent of drug-related federal sentences in West Virginia in FY2001 were heroin-related, compared with 7.2 percent nationally. (See Table 1 in Overview section.)

The DEA Charleston Resident Office reported that heroin sold for $350 per bundle (10 bags) and $25 to $50 per bag in 2002. The heroin analyzed by DEA was typically 85 percent pure. Heroin rarely is sold in kilogram quantities in West Virginia.

 

Violence

Violence associated with heroin distribution and abuse in West Virginia is limited. Heroin abusers who commit crimes in West Virginia generally commit nonviolent property crimes to support their heroin addiction.

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Production

Opium is not cultivated nor is heroin refined in West Virginia. Heroin available in the United States is produced primarily in four source regions: South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. Most of the heroin available in West Virginia is produced in South America, although limited quantities of Mexican black tar and brown powdered heroin, Southeast Asian heroin, and Southwest Asian heroin are available in the state.

 

Transportation

Caucasian and African American local independent dealers and loosely organized criminal groups as well as local street gangs, such as West Side Posse, are the principal transporters of heroin into West Virginia. Out-of-state African American and Mexican criminal groups, among others, as well as street gangs also transport heroin into West Virginia, although to a lesser extent. Most of the heroin available in West Virginia is transported into the state via private vehicles from Baltimore, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; New York, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland, Columbus, and Steubenville, Ohio; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C., among other areas. Heroin also is transported from these areas into the state, albeit to a lesser extent, by couriers aboard buses and trains and via package delivery services.

 

Distribution

Retail-level heroin distribution usually occurs in the urban areas of West Virginia such as Martinsburg and Weirton; wholesale-level heroin distribution in West Virginia is rare. Caucasian and African American local independent dealers and loosely organized criminal groups as well as local street gangs, such as West Side Posse, are the principal retail-level distributors of heroin in West Virginia. Heroin typically is sold at open-air drug markets, private residences, hotel rooms, and bars in the state. Most heroin sold at the retail level is packaged in small plastic zip-top bags with markings such as He-Man, NYPD, Pokemon, Red Bull, Spiderman, or Turbo. In Beckley heroin typically is packaged in aluminum gum wrappers or in small plastic bags, according to the West Virginia State Police.

Out-of-state African American and Mexican criminal groups, among others, as well as street gangs also distribute heroin at the retail level in West Virginia, albeit to a lesser extent. However, local law enforcement officials in West Virginia report that Philadelphia- and Pittsburgh-based distributors increasingly are selling retail quantities of heroin in their jurisdictions. In 2002 officials from the Hancock-Brooke-Weirton Drug and Violent Crime Task Force arrested an African American male from Pittsburgh in possession of 110 stamp bags of heroin. This individual had traveled from Pittsburgh to Weirton in a "jitney"--an unlicensed taxi--to distribute the heroin.

 


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