The U.S. Attorney in Birmingham says a series of heroin busts announced Monday marks one of the largest collaborations of local law enforcement agencies she's ever seen.
Joyce White Vance says heroin has become a local epidemic. The number of heroin overdose deaths in Jefferson, Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties jumped 500 percent between 2008 and 2012. Eighty-three people died in those counties in 2012.
And all of the law enforcement officers gathered Monday for the bust announcement say that number is probably low. They gathered at the Birmingham DEA office to say they have warrants to arrest 50 people in connection with heroin trafficking and 40 of those are already in custody.
Two of the men still being pursued will be charged with providing heroin that killed a 20-year-old University of Alabama student, Baker Mims, and another 28-year-old man within a month of each other last year in the same Tuscaloosa apartment complex.
"Being from a college town, I know firsthand the problems we're experiencing in Tuscaloosa with this heroin. Heroin's an epidemic, and we've made a decision in our community to take it head on," Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson.
The DEA says most of the overdose deaths are people in their teens, 20s or early 30s who start out getting hooked on pills but quickly dive into stronger drugs.
"When you can't afford that, or heroin is readily available and cheaper than the prescription drugs, you move to heroin," Clay Morris with the DEA said.
"For us it's the fact that these drug trafficking organizations have the ability to morph themselves, so what we saw were organizations that were primarily concentrating on cocaine and other drugs, morphed into heroin," Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper said.
And because these traffickers are so new to the heroin trade, the product the buy primarily from Mexico, Atlanta and California is so pure they haven't figured out how to dilute it enough to be street-safe. Heroin on the streets was once 10-20 percent pure and officials say it's now as high at 98 percent pure.
"If you inject 98.2% pure heroin in your system, you're not going to survive that," Morris said.
While the task force hopes Monday's bust sends a message, they stress these epidemic of deaths won't stop until parents get involved.
"You need to look for changes in behavior and conduct, changes in friendships, changes in grades and how they're relating at home. All of those things point to something being different, and then as a parent, you've got to dig in and get nosy. It's no time to be a friend, it's time to be a parent," Roper said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has released the names of the 40 people indicted on drug distribution charges and who are currently in custody:
RONALD E. BROWN JR., 27, Birmingham
BRANDON J. PARKER, 31, Quinton, Ala.
BRANDON D. MILLER, 26, Brighton
BYRAN E. HARDY, 27, Birmingham
REGINAL B. EDWARDS, 48, Birmingham
JOHN D. FELTENBERGER, 45, Columbiana
ERSKINE B. FOSTER, 38, Birmingham
MARCUS L. BETTIS, 26, Birmingham
FRANKLIN T. ALBERT JR., 46, Birmingham
DARRYL K. MILLER, 44, Helena
WALTER B. EVERSON III, 27, Birmingham
ARCHIE T. LAWRENCE, 28, Birmingham
MARCUS L. CAMPBELL, 35, Brighton
ROGER E. HUGHES, 41, Columbiana
DEMARCUS HARGROVE, 27, Birminghan
DERRICK D. BREWER, 41, Bessemer
JAMES D. LEVERT, 31, Birmingham
ANTHONY D. MCGOWAN, 30, Birmingham
REDRICK Q. PATTERSON, 30, Birmingham
ANNA MARIE WAINRIGHT, 26, Birmingham
LEONARD MONTGOMERY, 55, Guntersville
JOSEPH M. BINDER, 28, Birmingham
JERRY JONES, 20, Birmingham
TORY TRONE, 38, Birmingham
DANA BOYD, 24, Birmingham
STEVEN N. SALTER, 33, Alexander City
ERIC L. HARRIS, 31, Birmingham
OMAR K. LEE, 35, Birmingham
DEWARREN L. WYATT, 32, Birmingham
ANDERSON A. LEE, 33, Birmingham
LEDARRIUS J. BROWN, 39, Birmingham
JOSEPH A. COOK, 20, Tuscaloosa
ELLIOT W. MOON JR., 35, Alexander City
VINCENT B. MOON, 40, Alexander City
TIMOTHY BOVAN, 28, Memphis
DAVID MCDANIEL, 22, Birmingham
CORDELL D. TELL, 35, Birmingham
DAVID WILSON, 35, Birmingham
MICHAEL M. BONNER, 27, Birmingham
SAMESHA JONES, 27, Birmingham
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