“This generation has a Superman syndrome. They think they can shoot this stuff in their body or put it up their nose and get away with it. They don’t know how dangerous it is — and they’re dropping like flies.” — Lt. Jimmy Cox, Fairfax County
“Eighty percent of overdoses occur between midnight and 4 a.m.,” he said. “And I usually get five calls a day.” — Lt. Jimmy Cox, Fairfax County Police
In March 2008, Westfield High grad Alicia Lannes died of a heroin overdose at age 19. Besides being a tragedy, her death came as a wake-up call that the local community had a serious drug problem.
It was the catalyst for a seven-month investigation into a Centreville drug ring — and Lannes was one of four local residents who’d died because of heroin overdoses. Ultimately, police arrested 16 people on charges including conspiracy and distribution of heroin. They were then tried and convicted in federal court — where they were sentenced to a total of 135 years in prison.
Trouble is, it’s now 2017, and the heroin epidemic still rages here and throughout the U.S. And Lt. Jimmy Cox, with the Fairfax County Police Organized Crime and Narcotics Division, discussed it during a meeting of the Sully District Station’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).
“It’s so imbedded in our county now that we can’t keep up with it,” he said. “In 2014, we assigned two detectives to it. In 2015, it got worse and worse, and we had to change our thinking about how we do policing for it; we partnered with the Community Services Board.”
And now that marijuana is becoming legal in many places, said Cox, “The Mexican Cartel is growing opium poppies, instead. From heroin comes morphine, and from morphine come other narcotics.”
He said that, when actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose in 2014, it “brought to light” the problem of heroin addiction and the fact that overdoses from this drug were increasing. And he stressed that it’s a serious issue with the “younger generation.”
Noting a nationwide documentary, “Chasing the Dragon,” made by the FBI and DEA, Cox said, “It’s about five [heroin] addicts and their stories. A couple are still in prison — and they’re all from Prince William and Fairfax counties, so that hits home.”
AS A MEMBER of the police Narcotics Division, Cox is notified whenever there’s a drug overdose in this county. “Eighty percent of overdoses occur between midnight and 4 a.m.,” he said. “And I usually get five calls a day.”
He said things got so bad that police started giving out the Community Service Board’s cards telling people “how to stay alive if you’re doing heroin. We gave out 120 cards in eight months, and just one person sought help. Heroin truly takes over their lives.”
Often, said Cox, “Heroin users pool their money together and go to [Washington], D.C., to get it and bring it back. A point is 1/10 of a gram of heroin and costs 10 bucks, and most users shoot up seven to 10 points a day. That’s $70-$100 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
He said users put water on a spoon and put the heroin on it. Then they dissolve the drug with a lighter and filter it before injecting it. “One woman was so desperate [to use it] that she put the spoon in toilet water,” said Cox. “And once the veins in their arms collapse, people find other places on their body to inject it. Some do it in between their toes, and others do into their genitals.”
Calling heroin “such a powerful drug,” he spoke of a West Springfield teen who police arrested. “She did heroin while she was two months pregnant,” said Cox. “Our job right now is to keep these people alive. But there are times when it’s really difficult.”
In another instance, he said, “A boy and his girlfriend go to [a grocery store in Chantilly]; he’s in the car, she ODs [overdoses] in the store’s bathroom. He finds her and drags her out of the store, and the police take her to [Inova] Fair Oaks Hospital and find heroin on her. Next day, she’s released and goes to [a restaurant] on Richmond Highway. She shoots up again, ODs and is rescued again.”
But that’s not all. “The next night, rescue goes to her house because she’s overdosed again,” said Cox. “So police get a search warrant for her house and, when we execute it, we get heroin, Xanax and three vials of Narcan – which counteracts a heroin overdose. It was so her mom or her boyfriend could save her life. And Narcan saves lives; but at some point, tough love and arrests have to come into play.”
Last year, said Cox, another detective caught a girl involved in criminal activity. “She’d been sold, used and beaten by drug dealers, and she robbed, stole and stabbed for these dealers,” he said. “I gave her a card and an information packet [to get help] and she took it. She was the one person who did.”
Police had arrested her for prostitution, and she told them she wanted help to get out of that life and to stop using drugs. “She later got clean, advocated against heroin use and helped others [do the same],” said Cox. “Last December, she testified in a case for us. We later heard she’d gotten an apartment and a good job and got her young son back. She said that was cool. Then she died in March of an overdose.”
DIRECTLY ADDRESSING those attending the CAC meeting, he said, “We put our heart and soul into this fight. She was our one, success story that I was so proud of, so [her death] was really hard for us. But I’m here tonight talking to you because I still believe we can win. “
Last year, there were 116 drug overdoses and 20 drug-related deaths in Fairfax County, said Cox. By early March of this year, there were already 42 overdoses and 23 drug-related deaths — so it’s clear that drug addiction is still a huge problem in this area.
Cox said what’s driving this situation are fentanyl — one of the strongest opiate pain medications on the market — and a new, synthetic version of it called carfentanil, which is sometimes cut into heroin. “You can get fentanyl from China over the Internet, and it’s 50 times more potent than heroin,” he said. “Carfentanil is 100 times more potent.”
Making matters worse, he said, “This generation has a Superman syndrome. They think they can shoot this stuff in their body or put it up their nose and get away with it. They don’t know how dangerous it is — and they’re dropping like flies. They want to get as close to that OD as they can, because that’s the ultimate high. And the dealers are giving out Narcan free to them.”
According to Cox, “The dealer says, ‘I got the so-so stuff and the stuff that’ll kill you; which do you want?’ And the buyers say the latter. For the user, it becomes so that their body needs it to function. But once they get that great high, they can never get it again.”
Citing another example, he said, “A dental assistant between patients smoked heroin in a bathroom and died. But if he hadn’t, he’d have been working on somebody while high. I compare these people to the walking dead — they’re like zombies. We try to keep them in jail as long as possible so they’ll dry up and go to rehab.”
Cox said the over-prescribing of opiates is also a problem. “A dentist writes a prescription for a 90-day supply of Percocet,” he said. “How long does it take a toothache to go away? We’re a chemically dependent country and world. And sooner or later, you could take one pill that would turn you into a heroin addict.”
Often, marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin. “Not all marijuana users will turn into heroin addicts,” said Cox. “But the more you smoke, the bigger your tolerance to it. Then you want something with an even-bigger high. An ounce of marijuana is $250-$400, and you’ll go through your money quickly. But you can shoot up a $10 bag of heroin and have a better high.”
Parents may obtain drug-prevention information at www.drugfree.org/. “Heroin is the biggest drug problem in Fairfax County now,” said Cox. “I always tell people, ‘Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.’ Talk with your kids and know who they’re hanging out with. Tell them, ‘Get clean, or I’m going to call the police.’ You have to use tough love to save their lives.”