Along with the sharp increase in heroin deaths in Connecticut, more criminal cases involving heroin sale and possession are being observed in the state’s courts.
It might be too early for statistics to show, but some lawyers and judges are already seeing a spike in heroin arrests.
Superior Court Judge Robert Devlin Jr., who is the chief administrative judge for criminal matters, said, “anecdotally, we are definitely seeing an increased use in heroin. More people seem to be using heroin than before,” adding that treatment providers he’s spoken with are also seeing the spike.
“It’s been a trend that’s been around for more than one year,” Devlin said. “It’s readily available.”
Accidental heroin deaths in Connecticut last year were up 48 percent from 2012, mirroring overdose figures across New England and the nation. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the problem an “urgent public health crisis.”
Devlin said users are having a tougher time getting prescription drugs so they are turning to heroin, which is cheaper on the street than a prescription drug would be. “Heroin is cheaper on the street than Percocet,” Devlin said.
Another trend Devlin has noticed is more defendants in heroin-related cases are now coming from rural or suburban areas, rather than urban centers.
Hartford defense lawyer Corey Brinson said he’s seeing more heroin-related criminal cases for sale and possession in state and federal court. At the same time, Brinson said, he believes police are getting more aggressive in trying to combat its use. “The judges come down hardest on heroin dealers,” Brinson said. “Heroin dealers face much more severe penalties, I think because of the devastating effects of its use.”
Brinson said he has seen an increase in other crimes stemming from the use of heroin. Those statistics are harder to track, he said, but he’s hearing of more larcenies, burglaries and robberies that are drug-related. “Those are the crimes that you can’t catch in the statistics,” Brinson said. “You’ve got users stealing to pay their dealers.”
John Walkley, a Milford lawyer who is president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said while heroin possession among young suburban men and women has always been a problem, he senses an increase in use by suburban “kids.”
“It certainly does not seem to be merely an inner-city problem anymore,” Walkley said. “And it is difficult for these suburban parents to understand that it is actually happening in the suburbs. I would agree that the increase in use is clearly there, but I haven’t personally seen an increase in heroin-related deaths. It would seem inevitable though.
“I currently represent at least three young suburban men who are fighting heroin addictions,” Walkley said. “So the problem surely is there.”
A trial involving a criminal charge that stemmed from a heroin overdose is scheduled to begin in Danbury Superior Court on May 23. Accused drug dealer Vandy Heard is charged with first-degree manslaughter and sale of narcotics (heroin) by a nondrug-dependent person, Danbury’s State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III said.
Sedensky said he has not personally noticed an increase in heroin-related arrests. “But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been an increase,” he added. “Most people get programs and suspended sentences for possession.”
Danbury defense lawyer Vicki Hutchinson, who is on the board of the CCDLA, said in her experience in Danbury and Waterbury, most of the individuals charged with narcotics offenses are heroin users. “In the past it appeared there were more crack cocaine users. Now it’s heroin,” Hutchinson said.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin T. Kane said in a statement the “entire law enforcement and public health community is concerned about the alarming increase in heroin addiction and the number of heroin-related deaths that have occurred throughout the northeast in the past few years.
“The Connecticut State Police, along with municipal and federal authorities, and the Division of Criminal Justice are engaged in coordinated efforts to combat heroin trafficking, particularly packaged heroin that has been linked to fatal overdoses,” Kane said.
Stamford lawyer Stephan Seeger, who has represented many people charged with heroin-related crimes, said, “we owe part of the recent heroin craze to the ease with which our youth have been able to access potent drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, and manipulate these drugs in a way to maximize the opiate ‘high.’”
Seeger added that treatment needs to be emphasized more in the judicial system. “As long as we continue to have addicts, and we continue to incarcerate them for the crimes they commit in the grip of their addictions, they will return to society without the skills to overcome, and they will remain weak. Heroin sales are fueled by addiction, and sellers prey upon those who are in weakened states.”
Judge Devlin said that over the years, the court system has made available more programs for treatment. From 2008 through now, there has been a threefold increase in the amount of spots available for drug treatment, he said. •