American law enforcement has a new Public Enemy No. 1 among illegal drugs: It’s called heroin. That’s according to a new survey of police conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration that shows 38 percent of local law enforcement now considers heroin the “greatest threat” to their communities.
The DEA’s survey, conducted annually, includes more than 1,100 local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies and shows how America’s illegal drug problem has evolved in recent years. In 2007, just 8 percent of local U.S. law enforcement agencies said heroin posed the “greatest threat.” Back then, cocaine was widely viewed as the biggest problem, with 40 percent of respondents saying it was the “greatest threat.”
Today, those numbers are reversed: 38 percent of cops rank heroin as the “greatest threat” of any drug, with less than 10 percent saying it’s cocaine. Heroin, the DEA said, “is available in larger quantities, used by a larger number of people, and is causing an increasing number of overdose deaths.”
The report lays out many reasons why law enforcement’s growing concerns about heroin are justified, including the fact that “Mexican traffickers are positioning themselves to take even greater control of the US heroin market” by upping the purity of their product and lacing it with deadly large animal tranquilizer fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids. But while the DEA’s report also addresses prescription pill abuse, which has fueled the opioid epidemic, it seems many local cops are still struggling to make the connection.
Only 15 percent of respondents to the DEA survey indicated that “controlled prescription drugs” were the greatest threat in their area. That figure is down from 28 percent in 2013, and only slightly higher than it was back in 2007, when cocaine was still widely viewed by local police as the “greatest threat” to their communities.
Heroin is undoubtedly a huge issue — 65 percent of police reported to the DEA that availability of the drug was increasing in their area — but it’s still far less deadly than painkillers. The number over overdoses caused by prescription drugs has “outpaced those for cocaine and heroin combined” every year since 2002, the DEA said. Surveys also found that more people abuse prescription pills than cocaine, heroin, meth, MDMA, and PCP combined.