Despite several recent arrests involving heroin, use of the drug in the Longview area is not the problem it is in larger cities, but local officials are preparing for the possibility.
“We see a little bit of heroin, but we’re not seeing it like they are in major cities,” Longview police Chief Mike Bishop said. “Of course, a lot of when we look at different drug trends, that’s where we usually see them in the bigger cities, and then they’ll come to the smaller cities as the drug gets transported.”
A National Heroin Threat Assessment released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in June noted the threat from heroin has been increasing since 2007, with the drug “available in larger quantities, used by a larger number of people and causing an increasing number of overdose deaths.”
The DEA noted heroin is much higher in purity and has a lower cost than in previous years.
Four recent Longview-area arrests show the drug is not uncommon to the area.
Three people were indicted in federal court in connection with a heroin and methamphetamine drug-trafficking organization, with court documents detailing the distribution of heroin and meth in North and East Texas.
Andrew Jonathan Hearnsberger, 28, of Kilgore was charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin and two counts of possession with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin and aiding and abetting.
Johnny Carol Denton III, 27, and Emily Nicole Maples, 24, both of Gilmer, each were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin; conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin and methamphetamine aiding and abetting; and use, carrying and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.
Hearnsberger was arrested in Kilgore, and Denton and Maples were arrested in Gilmer in early January, police said.
In addition to those arrests, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper arrested a Gladewater man in early February after finding a large amount of heroin and a backpack of money in his car during a traffic stop.
Zane Cooper Selman, 21, was charged with manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance measuring between 4 grams and 200 grams and possession or delivery of drug paraphernalia.
But local officials and agencies said they are not seeing a big increase in heroin use in East Texas.
Amber Shepperd, a regional evaluator at the Prevention Resource Center at the East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said only about 2 percent of the agency’s clients have reported heroin use.
“On substances mentioned in intake, heroin is consistently at the bottom,” she said. “Our No. 1 continues to be methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is an epidemic. Thirty-four percent of the people coming in, they report methamphetamine use, which is higher than the state of Texas.”
Meth continues to be popular among drug users in Gregg County because it is inexpensive to buy, easy to make and highly addictive, said Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano.
Shepperd said ETCADA is seeing heroin use among older adults, but not in younger populations. And though the agency doesn’t see a lot of heroin use, it is still a big issue.
“What we do know is, heroin is one of the higher-risk drugs,” she said.
Heroin is more lethal than other drugs, Shepperd said. The use of IVs and needle sharing also increases the possibility that users will contract a disease, Shepperd said.
Shepperd and Cerliano noted drugs first seen in big cities usually come to smaller areas as time goes by — but that’s not yet the case here.
“I think what we know historically about drugs and drug fads is that if it starts in a big city in Texas, it is likely that that could at some point affect a more rural area like East Texas,” Shepperd said. “So we certainly can’t say it’s not going to happen, but the data is not showing a rise in heroin use.”