Cover Story: Charlotte #5 in black tar heroin

Published: Jun. 28, 2011 at 11:11 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 29, 2011 at 4:25 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - New information about that string of stick ups at local tanning salons and cell phone stores.  The suspects may have done it for the drug money.

Police say Kristie Welch is the common denominator in a whole slew of robberies.  Police say she was in cahoots with Charlsy Honeycutt and Bryan Gale.

Welch has a seriously deep rap sheet.  And a lot of her arrests are drug related - heroin possession.  It's a highly addictive drug of choice for a lot of desperate criminals.

In fact, Charlotte's got a serious heroin problem.  Dealers are slinging black tar in our streets.  Police say kids are tying off behind the mall.

The junk is not particularly expensive, dangerously addictive and sometimes deadly.

People are dying.  And today police are talking about it.  It's been a problem for awhile but it's now getting front-and-center attention among our elected leaders.

Charlotte is one of the five worst cities in the nation for black tar heroin, which surprises many people.  Also surprising is where the drug is taking hold.

It was a bombshell dropped Monday night.

"The best way to hit this thing head on would be to get folks to stop buying it."

Black tar heroin.. found in balloons.  Stuffed in cheese.  Heated on a spoon.  The most potent, the most widely distributed heroin in the U.S.  And the least expensive, which accounts for its popularity among suburbanites in their teens and 20s.

"They are mostly young.. they are white. They are affluent. They are intelligent and many of them believe that they are too smart to get addicted," says Dr. Paul Friday of UNC Charlotte's Criminal Justice Department.

They are getting addicted.  And they're showing up in the majority of cases at Substance Abuse Services and other drug treatment centers.

In Charlotte at least 23 overdoses have been linked to BTH in the first six months of the year.  The victims are all Caucasians, five people have died.

Black tar heroin is coming here from western Mexico - run here by cartels - a marketing and distribution plan that rivals Fortune 500 companies.  In Charlotte they have an extensive support network.

The heroin comes in from Mexico.  The organization uses a local "dispatch" system.  Buyers call a phone number and a dispatcher directs the buyer to a location.  A "runner" then meets the buyer and conduct the transaction.

Sometimes it's behind shopping malls.  Sometimes it's neighborhood streets.

"Areas that seem to suffer from heroin sales and distribution seem to be the same areas that have those property crime spikes," says Major. Glen Neimeyer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The link to drugs and crime is undeniable.  Recent numbers indicate 67 percent of those processed into the Mecklenburg Jail test positive for at least one drug.  15-percent test positive for two or more drugs at the time of their arrest.

"Addiction is something that continues to hurt our society. We'll continue to address the associated criminal behavior that goes along with that addiction," says CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe.

Police say they're tightening their grip on BTH dealers and uses.  Because it's use is so high here the city's been awarded more than 223 thousand dollars in federal grants to get at the problem.

"We're attacking this on every level of the organization," says Neimeyer.

With the federal grant  the city's bought equipment to do wiretapping.  They're listening in on the cartels operating in Mexico and here.  The money is also paying for overtime for police and informants.

Why are we such a hotbed for black tar heroin?

There are several reasons.  Law enforcement officials tell us there's less competition inside the drug trade here than in the nation's biggest cities.

And being at a crossroads of two major interstates provides for a so-called "hub" effect for drug transporters.

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