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Law Enforcement Authorities in Avery, Watauga Counties See Increase in Heroin Use, Arrests, Confiscations

By Jesse Wood

Jan. 31, 2014. Local authorities are concerned about the increasing prevalence of heroin in the High Country, which historically hasn’t been the drug of choice for those residing in and around the High Country.

The many forms of heroin. Source: DEA
The many forms of heroin. Source: DEA

In April 2013, an undercover operation in Avery County resulted in the largest heroin bust in the history of the county. That record-breaking bust, though, only amounted to about 10 days worth of heroin. While Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye mentioned that his agency doesn’t see huge quantities of heroin, he recently said it has “absolutely” increased. 

That small amount found in April 2013 combined with the rest of the heroin confiscated last year amounted to the Avery County Sheriff’s Office recovering more heroin in 2013 as it did in the previous three years combined, Sheriff Frye said on Friday.

Across the border in Watauga, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office sent out a release on Thursday evening alerting the press of the “unfortunate” rise of heroin after busting two young males on Jan. 28 during an undercover sting with the Boone Police Department. The operation netted 2.2 grams of heroin with an estimated street value of $1,000.

The most recent heroin bust in Watauga County occurred on Jan. 28.
The most recent heroin bust in Watauga County occurred on Jan. 28.

Cody Michael Schumann, 23, of Kellersville Road, and Jacob Tyler Trachtenberg, 25, of Berry Road, were both charged with possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia. Trachtenberg was also charged with conspiracy to sell or deliver the drug. Trachtenberg received a bond amount of $10,000 and Schumann $15,000. Both are scheduled to appear in court on March 18.

Just as Frye noted, Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said his department has seen the rise of heroin use, which mirrors information gathered from its sister law enforcement agencies in the region.

Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or black sticky substance, known as black tar heroin. It is an opiate that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian opium poppy plant that is usually grown in Asia or Mexico, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. From 2004 to 2008, a report by the U.S. Department of Justice noted that authorities estimate Mexican heroin production increased 342 percent, a release from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office noted.

Both Frye and Hagaman mentioned that the increase of heroin use locally correlates with the abuse of prescription pills.

“I think what’s driving people over to heroin is just the cost of the pills, more than anything else right now. The price of illegal prescription pain pills at $30 to $80 per pill, but black tar heroin can be found for $10 per dose,” Hagaman said in a release.

Frye mentioned little heroin existed in the High Country during the “pill craze” in the late ’80s to mid ‘90s. But once that died down because of law enforcement and the medical community working together to eradicate pill abuse, local departments began to see, while in small quantities, increasing amounts of heroin. 

“Every time you shut down on supply, the demand on the other seems to rise,” Frye said. “It seems like whenever we really crack down on prescription drug abuse, we always start seeing an increase in heroin arrests.” 

Whenever the April 2013 bust occurred, Officer Shane Vance of the Avery Municipal Drug Task Force called the increasing prevalence of heroin in the communities of Avery County a shame. 

“It is good that all agencies work well together here in Avery County to combat this drug before it gets worse,” Vance said in April. “It is a very nasty drug that has a high addiction rate. It is one of those drugs a person tries one time and dies on the spot. If the person does not die, they are most likely going to be hooked for life.”