Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Heroin Deja Vu Strikes Suburbia


Back in the day, the “Cass Corridor” in Detroit was a highway for heroin and other drugs...junkies would blend in amongst students and the homeless, making it hard to differentiate between those three classes of urban dwellers.  

Homeless shelters seemed to be on every other corner from Forrest to I-375.  Drug houses were smartly camouflaged within the area, which ran from West Grand Boulevard down to Michigan Avenue, and from John R over to the Lodge freeway. 
That grid was a virtual 24-7 Detroit Woodstock, the main thoroughfare for locals and suburbanites alike, shopping for their drug of choice.

Fast forward to today---two homeless shelter zoning and standards ordinances, along with aggressive law enforcement campaigns, has successfully thinned out the corridor’s homeless service providers and drug house clientele.  Morphed into a vibrant mix of university, medical, theater, entertainment, and sports districts, the grid has emerged as one of the most racially and socially diverse eclectic safe-zones in Detroit.

A few years back, I wrote an editorial column for the Macomb Daily reporting that Smart 560 buses were the chariot of choice for Macomb County residents shopping for drugs off the Gratiot strip in Detroit.  I caught hell for it, and local leaders denied there was a problem or that the bus line was a hit-it and quit-it express for safely getting (to) a fix that could not be gotten locally.

A few months later, cooperating law enforcement agencies used the 560 as a surveillance tool, leading to the arrest of more than 70 druggies, raids on Detroit drug houses located off Gratiot and the impounding of vehicles, resulting in what was later considered a strong message to those who thought they were smart to use SMART.

While drug consumption in the "Cass corridor" has not completely disappeared, and access to drugs on the 560 has not been quite so evident lately, one thing is painfully clear; access to heroin is on the rise and no longer exclusively a two-way trip to Detroit. In fact, recent reports suggest that heroin use, and its local availability, is up...way way up, in metro Detroit...in "suburbia".... perhaps in a city or township near you.

A few years back, counties as far out as Genesee and Livingston started reporting sharp spikes in heroin use.  Overdoses were on the rise, and communities which thought themselves immune from the "scourge of Detroit" had reality checks that shook their communities to the core.  Then, things got quiet for a while, and local interventions seemed to be stemming the tidal wave of suburban substance abuse.

However, evidence now seems to suggest that heroin use has circled back to the suburbs.  While it is clear that drug use is no respecter of race, stature, or any other demographic or social or political class, what is crystal clear is that heroin users are getting younger, are upgrading from bathroom cabinet prescriptions, and are much more close to their dealers.

Just last December, Clinton Township police discovered that 19-year old twins had set up a heroin house in their grandmother's home right across from Chippewa Valley High school.  Clinton Township Detective Captain Richard Mairle told the Macomb Daily that “Heroin is a big problem out here….Parents have to make sure they keep a close eye on the children…We’ve had a lot of problems with overdoes.”

Warren, Michigan's third largest city, has such an alarming spike in heroin use that it just assigned additional officers to a drug unit for a three-month wheels-up campaign targeting heroin dealers and users.  There have been nearly 10 deaths in Warren by overdose in less than half a year, which may not seem like a lot in some people's eyes for a city the size of Warren (one death is a death too many) but, for Warren and other suburban centers, it is a marked increase warranting specialized attention.  

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson has recently announced a campaign against the sale of "Lollipipes" in Oakland County stores.  "Lollipipes" are described as candy crack pipes which cost a few cents short of six bucks but which can also possibly be used to smoke the real thing.   Patterson announced a hot line (248.858.8746) for reporting the sale of these items in Oakland County.   No such action appears to have been taken in either Wayne or Macomb County. 

Vigilance is a key tool in combating drug use on a personal level as well as it is a strategy for local municipalities.  Keeping your medicine cabinet free of certain prescriptions is as important as it is for cities to enforce drug-free zones. Parents cannot assume it cannot happen to their kids any more than a community can take false comfort in an "It can't happen here" mentality.  It is happening again, right now, and for the sake of our children and our communities, this fight needs to again take center stage.  The fight need to taken to our streets, our schools, and to our neighborhoods; more importantly, though, the fight needs to be taken seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Gregory,

    Well done. This article is unbelievably well-written and staggeringly accurate.

    Your last paragraph says it all...parents must always remain vigilant. Our kids, and their friends, must be educated.

    Stay strong.