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SE Idaho sees rise in heroin cases

POCATELLO, Idaho - Two men now face felony charges after a routine traffic stop led the Pocatello Police K-9 unit to search their car where they found heroin, among other drug paraphernalia.

But this was just one recent case out of string of instances where heroin has been found on subjects across eastern Idaho, and police are saying they are seeing a rise in heroin usage within the region.

Pocatello Police Department's Lt. Cliff Kelley said he has been seeing the rise in the demand for this drug now that it has become more available and cheaper than methamphetamine and other recreational drugs.

"It's easier to get right now and it's cheaper than some of the other drugs so it's going to be a little more prevalent," Kelley said.

He said law enforcement has been shifting gears to focus their drug-bust efforts on those using or distributing heroin after noticing the increase in its demand. 

Assistant Chief Deputy from the Bannock County Prosecutor's Office JaNiece Price said she has also been seeing a rise in the number of heroin cases landing on her desk lately.

"I think it's always going to be a problem, but it is on the rise," Price said. "We deal with a lot of different crimes where other individuals will burglarize another individual's house in order to get prescription drugs to fuel their habit."

She said more and more people are using prescription drugs and with those being hard to obtain or even unavailable, more people are choosing to use heroin as an alternative.

She said this is becoming a national problem, where she has been attending national seminars educating other prosecutors about this issue that's now deemed as the "pharmaceutical epidemic."

Price also said one statistic she learned at the latest seminar held in Anaheim, CA is that heroin can be up to 60% cheaper than other opiates.

Bannock County deputy prosecutor Ashley Graham said laboratory reports indicate these days heroin has a stronger concentration and is more dangerous than ever before.

"I'm starting to see it more in the DUI labs, I'm starting to see it more in police reports as far as paraphernalia charges associated with possession or trafficking charges, so it's definitely on the rise in this area," Graham said.

The county's director of court services Cyndy Hawkley said in an interview over the phone that she has also seen the number of heroin cases coming through the court on the rise. She also noticed more and more younger-aged people getting caught using or distributing the drug.

But some folks who end up getting caught don't see the justice system just once.

"Most times we're dealing with people who have an addiction, and a lot of times you'll see individuals who end up coming back and their addiction is so severe that they aren't able to figure out how to get the help and overcome, deal with, or manage that addiction," Price said.

She said there are a few options for people who have to stand before the courts after getting caught for using heroin. They can go through: diversion courts, community treatment, or some could end up incarcerated after pleading guilty.

Kelley said police have been tracing the source of this problem back to manufacturers and distributors out of state.

But, he also said people shouldn't be worried about the safety of their community since police aren't expecting crime to increase.

Still, as the demand for heroin increases, so will the number of arrests.

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