HONESDALE - A single pill of Percocet has a street value of about $30. A bag of heroin, about .025 a gram, can be purchased for $15 to $20.
Those are two of the many reasons why there has been a large spike in heroin abuse in Wayne County, District Attorney Janine Edwards said during a recent interview at the Wayne County Courthouse.
Heroin is one of the cheapest and easily accessible drugs, which is another reason why it is popular.
Heroin is an opioid made from morphine. The common belief is that the rise of heroin use stems from addiction to pain medication such as Percocet, Vicoden and Oxycodone, Edwards said.
People become addicted to the opioids and can no longer get them from legal prescriptions, so they turn to heroin, said the district attorney.
Edwards said that about five years ago prescription pills were a top drug of choice in the county.
Now the pills have been replaced by heroin.
On reason why heroin is so inexpensive is because the market is flooded. If users can't get the drug from one dealer, they can go to another dealer, Edwards said.
The district attorney noted that, with cocaine, there is usually a dealing pyramid, with the kingpin on the top and various street level dealers on the bottom.
That is not the case with heroin dealers - they are all on a level playing field and there are no turf wars.
The district attorney also noted that collateral crime has greatly increased since heroin has become so popular among users.
Between 2011 and 2013 there was a 200 percent increase in property-related theft and a 500 percent increase in felony drug charges.
"Clearly that's heroin having a hold on many," Edwards said, pointing out the drug impacts not only the user but friends, families and the entire community.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug - one hit can cause addiction, Edwards said.
Also, there is no way to know the exact dosage amount since it is usually cut, or mixed, with other substances. Due to unknown purity factors, heroin causes many fatalities due to overdoses, Edwards said.
County Coroner Edward Howell said heroin deaths are on the rise and "it's a real problem."
It's difficult to determine the number of people who died from heroin overdoses in Wayne County in part because they usually have other drugs in their systems and there could be a combined effect, officials said.
For example, morphine is a common metabolite of codeine and heroin, meaning that when codeine and heroin break down in the body, on toxicology, morphine is what might be listed as being found in the blood, according to Wayne County Deputy Coroner Laura Swingle.
So seeing morphine on the toxicology doesn’t automatically mean it was heroin that caused the death, but it could indicate that, she said.
Also, many overdose death victims in the county are transported to hospitals in Scranton or elsewhere, meaning their deaths will not be noted in the yearly coroner's report.
Howell said dealing with families of overdoes victims is particularly difficult.
"It's a painful thing," said the coroner.
In increase in Wayne County's heroin problem is reflected in the defendants who appear in county court.
During recent court proceedings, the majority of the cases had to do with heroin users or dealers.
• Christopher Williams, 39, of Honesdale, was sentenced to 15 to 72 months in state prison on theft and related charges.
The defendant engaged to the thefts to feed a heroin addiction, he said.
Williams expressed remorse and said he is getting too old to be abusing his body.
President Judge Raymond Hamill told him, "If you keep using heroin you won't be getting much older."
• Curtis Jaggars, 27, of Honesdale, was sentenced to four to 23 1/2 months in county jail for dealing heroin.
His lawyer, Christopher Farrell, said, "He's a heroin addict like so many people who come through here."
Hamill noted that Jaggars has a lot of positive things going on in his life, but if he doesn't kick the habit he'll either be wearing prison garb for the majority of his life or be found dead with a needle in his arm.
The judge, referencing defendant Williams, told Jaggars, "Are you going to wait until you're 40 to get straightened out?"
The judge also told the defendant, "You can succeed in getting treatment, but it will be the hardest thing you do."
• While most of the defendants expressed remorse and seemed to want to kick their heroin addiction, such was not the case for Joseph Mann, 23, of Honesdale.
Mann was sentenced to four to 36 months in county prison for stealing scrap metal, which he sold to feed his heroin addiction.
According to a pre-sentence report prepared for Mann, the defendant said, "Some of the best times in my life was when I'm high" and he didn't think the court system should force drug programs on people who "don't have problems.
Edwards said most heroin dealers, like Jaggars, sell to the drug to support their own habit.
The Wayne County Drug Task Force and Pennsylvania State Police are doing their best to combat the heroin problem.
State police can combat the problem by enforcing traffic laws along the interstates.
Edwards said there are increasing amounts of people being charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance, in many cases heroin. Generally, if they are under the influence of heroin during a traffic stop, they also will be in possession of the drug, sometimes in large quantities.
The drug task force, meanwhile, in conjunction with Edwards, has set up a hotline so people can call or text in anonymous tips regarding drug activity.
Edwards said the tip line is important because some people don't want to be involved in the cases or they have fear of retribution.
The tip line is accessible 24 hours a day and seven days a week at 570-391-0657, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, the county commissioners recently approved a grant for an Intermediate Punishment (IP) Treatment Program for the county and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).
Edwards, Hamill, chief probation officer Jim Chapman and Jeff Zerechak, director of the county Drug and Alcohol Commission, want to get IP treatment to help serve county offenders who have an alcohol or drug addiction problem.
The program is an alternative to incarceration.
Edwards said the program will focus on offenders listed as level three or four.
According to the Pennsylvania Code for Judiciary and Judicial Procedure, level three offenders are serious offenders and those with numerous prior convictions, such that the standard range requires incarceration or IP, but in all cases permits a county sentence.
The code defines level four offenders as very serious offenders and those with numerous prior convictions, such that the standard range requires state incarceration but permits it to be served in a county facility
Edwards said she hopes the program will be a success as it was just instituted in July of this year.