UPDATE: Heroin use on the rise in the Roanoke Valley - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

UPDATE: Heroin use on the rise in the Roanoke Valley

Posted: Updated:
5:53 p.m.

For nearly two decades Roanoke City Police Captain Rick Morrison has been fighting the drug trade in the Star City.

Its ebbed and flowed, from one drug to another.

Now heroin use, a nationwide problem, is making its way into our community.

"If you can take out the demand part of it, supply's going to go away," Morrison said. "It's a basic marketing strategy and drug dealers are no different."

Now the demand for heroin is on the rise

In 2011, Roanoke City Police arrested 28 people for heroin related offenses.

That number more than tripled in 2013 with 88 arrests.

Part of the problem lies with the heroin itself, with police seeing a purer form of the drug.

"You get that stigma of using needles and dirty needles and you get that person in the alleyway all jacked up," Morrison said. "Now with that little more pure heroin, you can smoke it or you can snort it."

Investigators say it can be an appealing alternative, especially when it comes to younger generations.

"We've seen a definite trend in it going up, especially in that young age group," said Jessica Kyle, a Senior Probation and Parole Officer for the Roanoke Drug Court.

The program offers an alternative to jail through intense rehab, therapy, community service and education.

She's noticing a disturbing trend with more people under the age of 20 going through the drug court program.

"18, 19, 20 years old you have no concept of tomorrow or 2 years down the road," she said. "It's very difficult to deal with someone and give them a reason not to use when even death does not scare them."

It's forcing local police to embrace new philosophies, with prevention and education taking center stage. But it's a battle they're not fighting alone.

Last week the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing in Washington on the growing problem.

After the hearing, Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said he's confident federal dollars will come to Southwest Virginia to help police.

"We're looking at trying to increase what's know as HIDA, that's a High Intensity Drug Task Force Area," Griffith said. "We're trying to get the federal government to include more areas in Southwest Virginia into the HIDA programs."

That's welcome news for Roanoke City Police, who expect the problem to get worse in the short term.

But with a focus on education and deterrence, they hope the added money won't be needed in the long term.

"(We're) working with the community, working with other law enforcement agencies and other private groups. So it's nothing really new to us," Morrison said. "We have to make sure that our strategies, our tactics are in-line with these increases."

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A nationwide drug problem is making its way into the Roanoke Valley.

Heroin use is on the rise and it's having an impact on our community.

Since 2011, the number of heroin related arrests has tripled in the Star City.

Roanoke's drug court is also seeing more of its program become consumed by the drug.

"The heroin that's on the streets that we're seeing and dealing with is a very pure form, it's very lethal," said Jessica Kyle, a Senior Probation and Parole Officer with Roanoke's drug court. "These people do not know what they're doing when they're using."

Even more concerning, Kyle said more people under the age of 20 are coming through the program.

You can see our full investigation on the growing heroin problem tonight at 6 p.m. on WSLS 10.
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