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Rock County facing heroin epidemic

At first glance, Rock County, and Beloit in particular, probably does not strike many as a likely stronghold for drug trafficking in the United States. But when one considers the county and city’s proximity to Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee and the interstate, Rock County and Beloit have become a disturbingly prominent terminal for heroin in the Midwest.

It is a case of unfortunate geography that has placed Rock County so squarely in the plans of drug traffickers and it is because of this that the county was designated as a high intensity drug trafficking area (HIDTA) six years ago by the federal government.

“What makes Beloit popular for business can also make it attractive to drug cartels because of its proximity to so many large markets,” said Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden last year in an interview with the Beloit Daily News.

At present, there are 28 HIDTA’s, almost all of which are based in Texas, California and Florida, among other southern states. In this regard, Rock County is a bit of an anomaly, as it is one of the few areas outside of that region that has been designated by the federal government.

According to Spoden, the most prominent drug activity in Rock County is now heroin, a spike that began “about five to six years ago.” Much of the heroin in the area is a product of Afghanistan, which saw a 36 percent increase in poppy cultivation in 2013, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey.

This high rate of heroin activity in the county also leaves the area susceptible to the deadly spread of fentanyl-laced heroin that is currently ravaging certain parts of the United States. A recent surge in overdose deaths from this mixture prompted the Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a national alert in late March.

Fentanyl is a narcotic, which is used to ease the pain of terminally ill individuals, often suffering from the extreme suffering of diseases such as bone cancer. It is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and is strong that it is typically only used in micrograms. According to the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, the number of illegal drugs containing fentanyl that were seized between 2013 and 2014 more than tripled. The figure went from 942 seizures in 2013 to 3,344 in 2014.

This increase in laced heroin has corresponded to a rash of deadly overdoses across the Northeast. In one week in January 2014, Pennsylvania saw 22 heroin overdoses linked to fentanyl.

“It takes a very small amount of fentanyl to kill,” Dr. Melinda Campopiano, a medical officer for the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, told Reuters. “A few grains of powder by itself is probably enough.”

A previous epidemic of overdoses caused by fentanyl-laced heroin occurred between 2005 and 2007, when more 1,000 people in Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia died. And considering Rock County’s proximity to Chicago, it would appear that the deeply ingrained drug connection between the two areas will continue and could become even more deadly.

“The attrition in heroin is because somebody dies, not because somebody quits,” said Dan Tilley, a supervisor with the Beloit Police Department’s Gang and Drug Unit, to the Beloit Daily News. “It’s not the way we’d like to see it go.”

Sources: Beloit Daily News, Reuters, USA Today

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