Major Drug Pipeline Goes Straight Through the Ozarks

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — For years, the world’s primary heroin supply came from southeast Asia but according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the most recent heroin in the United States has come from Mexico or South America.

“It may be behind the scenes but there are people like me using all over the place.”

For as long as Robert Carter can remember, he has been an addict.

“It started with prescription pain medicine. I had a gunshot wound. I didn’t realize it then but I picked up a lifetime habit up to this point at any rate.”

Carter moved to the Ozarks from the Mississippi Delta years ago.

“The average person just might be surprised to learn that things like that happen all the time in some of the best neighborhoods, some of the nicest places in town.”

That is when his addiction peaked.

“In 2008, I was using really heavy IV.”

In the Ozarks, Carter said the supply is there to meet the demand, unfortunately.

“Its just as easy as it was in New Orleans, honestly, just as easy,” said Carter.

Over the last five years, the amount of heroin taken off Springfield streets has increased by nearly 3,000 percent.

“We are seeing a big influx of heroin at the same time, we are seeing a decline in our crack cocaine usage,” said a Springfield Police Special Investigations Section Commander.

In 2011, 13 grams of heroin were confiscated and in 2015, 397 grams were seized.

“Most of the trade seems to be Springfield specific. They are coming here on purpose and staying and selling.”

While law enforcement agencies in southwest Missouri are trying to stay on top of the heroin trade in the area, Springfield police say our location on Interstate 44 doesn’t play in their favor.

Through their investigations, narcotic detectives say dealers have a straight shot to a high demand market in Springfield.

“Like example, St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, Little Rock, just larger cities to smaller cities is how it typically goes and that’s what we see here too.”

SPD investigators believe they have a good idea of who is bringing heroin into the Queen City.

“We have a pretty good picture of who is bringing it in, who is selling it. We are just aggressively pursuing it, trying to get ahead of it before it gets out of hand.”

Carter said as a user, it is not about where it is coming from, it is about who you know.

“I had no friends that used originally and then after a year or less, most of the people that were around me, my circle of friends, were using.”

Earlier this year, Springfield police found six and a half pounds or almost three thousand grams of heroin in a home.

“Heroin is here and we all probably just need to acknowledge that and move towards slowing that progression.”

That does not compare to the state level. Troopers took 4,192 grams off Missouri highways in 2015 compared to 156 grams in 2011.

“A typical user amount may be an eighth of a gram so when you get four grams off of a dealer you have to put how much that is worth in the amount of grams that he was going to sell out.”

On the medical side, paramedics say the trends in overdoses tell them a little bit about when a new shipment of heroin makes its way into the Ozarks.

Over the past year, the increase in overdoses can be linked to the type of heroin on the streets.

“It seems like when there was a certain supply coming in our rate of calls would go up,” said Mercy EMS Grant Trimbell.

Paramedics say the trend shows just how dangerous heroin can be.

“It almost seemed like some of this heroin that was coming in was more potent than people were used to.”

Springfield police say there is not just one type of heroin in the Ozarks.

“Most of what we are seeing is the powder heroin. We have seen some black tar heroin but a lot of it is just what I would call powder heroin.”

Dealers may be cutting their supply to make a bigger profit but creating a deadly combination.

“You are strictly relying on your dealer to tell you what’s in there and they are not going to tell you how many times that’s been cut.”

Carter says heroin in the Ozarks took his life physically, financially and emotionally.

“I had an overdose in 2007 and I have kidney, renal insufficiency as part of that. I was actually homeless for two years in Springfield. It is pretty sad. It liked to cause me my life honestly.”

But he is not giving up on his fight.

“I’m not going to come in and say hey, I’m done with this. It doesn’t work like that. I’ve thought that I could a couple of times and it didn’t work like that.”

The Office of National Drug Control Policy says America is mostly divided when it comes to heroin distribution. Heroin found west of the Mississippi river is likely from Mexico but that on the east side is from Colombia. 

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