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Heroin epidemic eclipses prescription drug abuse in Front Royal

Front Royal Police Chief Norman Shiflett reports that the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force for Front Royal and Warren County seized 242 grams of heroin and 444 dose units of pills in 2013. Rich Cooley / File (Buy photo)

By Joe Beck

Heroin replaced abuse of prescription pills as the most serious drug problem confronting law enforcement in Front Royal, according to figures from 2013 released by the office of Police Chief Norman Shiflett.

Shiflett reported the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force for Front Royal and Warren County seized 242 grams of heroin and 444 dose units of pills last year.

Sgt. Kevin Coffman, a member of the multi-agency task force, said in a written statement that law enforcement officials saw overdoses from heroin increase.

"The trend we saw in 2013 was heroin overtaking pills as the drug of choice in the Shenandoah Valley," Coffman said.

Law enforcement filed a total of 343 drug-related charges, including distribution, possession with the intent to distribute, possession, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and sale of firearms to a prohibited person.

Detective Crystal Cline said in an interview Friday that addiction to pills, heroin, cocaine and other drugs often fuels increases in other crimes as addicts try to find the money to feed their habits.

"A very high percentage of the crimes we work with ultimately lead back to drug addiction," Cline said.

Cline said drug users have been turning to heroin since pill manufacturers began making their products in such a way that they are harder to convert into the powder form preferred by many addicts.

The potency of heroin varies, which is a major reason why it is riskier to users than prescription pills.

"When you get heroin, there's different purities to it, and that's causing a lot of the overdoses," Cline said.

Cline said prescription pills also differ from heroin in how dosage units are measured, which is why the law enforcement seizure numbers were higher for pills than heroin.

The 2013 numbers also showed police seized almost 7,000 grams of marijuana, the highest amount among the drugs listed in Shiflett's report. Seizures of crack cocaine were second with 293 grams.

Still, Cline and Shiflett said heroin will remain the No. 1 priority for law enforcement in 2014.

"Our major focus has been on heroin because of the overdoses and people committing other crimes to get the money to buy their drugs," Cline said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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