Police say heroin on the rise in Valley

Published: Jul. 6, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
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According to court records, law enforcement in Harrisonburg and Rockingham county served more than a dozen narcotics-related search warrants last month.

The RUSH Drug Task Force told WHSV while there is not particular reason June was a busy month, overall they are seeing an increase in heroin in the area.

In all of 2015, the task force conducted five heroin investigations and seized just under 70 grams of heroin. In just the first three months of this year, they have conducted eighteen heroin investigations and seized nearly 600 grams of heroin.

Most of the search warrants served last month included searches for drug paraphernalia, methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine.

One search warrant was for a case reportedly involving fentanyl, a drug the task force says is more deadly than heroin and will be seen more in the Valley in just a matter of time.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid like morphine and is often used for cancer patients. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent and morphine, and is considered to be 30 to 50 times more potent than pure heroin.

The type of fentanyl found on the streets is not the same prescribed by a doctor. Police say the problem is not just in the Valley.

"It used to be that we would think that in this area, we only see some very little drug activity; however for the last several years, we've seen many different types of drugs as any other part of this nation," explained Sgt. Jason Kidd with the Harrisonburg Police Investigations Division. "And unfortunately, drugs --every type of drug-- can be found pretty much anywhere in the nation."

Unlike other drugs, fentanyl can also be dangerous to more than just the user. Depending on the concentration of the drug, just a small amount can be deadly, even when coming into contact with skin or inhaled.

Sgt. Kidd added, "And of course it's very concerning for any member of the public --particularly for law enforcement who may come in contact with the substance."

Police say it takes special training to handle fentanyl. For example, if dismantling a meth lab is considered Level B specialized training, handling fentanyl is considered Level A specialized training.

The Chief Medical Examiner's Office reports that fentanyl-related deaths are increasing across the state. In 2014, there were 134; last year, there were more than 200.

Police also say where there are drugs, there are often guns --which can add another layer danger to cases.