Heroin Use Rises in Utah; Governor Attempts Remedy

Utah Heroin Use Rises

Photo: Todd Huffman

Heroin use in Utah appears to be on the rise, a disturbing fact that everyone from politicians to police officers are trying to reconcile in their own ways. With resulting deaths also increasing, Governor Gary Herbert recently gave his approval to two laws that attempt to address the problem. The question is, will they help?

The Numbers don’t Lie

Recent statistics have brought the issue of heroin use to the forefront. According to the Utah Department of Human Services, figures for drug treatment admission show that the use of heroin is seven times that of twenty years ago. The drug that accounted for two percent of all drug admissions in 1993 totaled approximately fifteen percent of admissions in 2013.

[Note: These figures only represent substance abuse admission paid for with public funds. They do not include patients who paid for treatment either personally or through private insurance.]

Unfortunately, the only number that has dropped is the average age of addicts. Users between the ages of 18-23 now make up approximately 1 in 5 admissions for treatment.

Heroin Use: Not Just for “Druggies” Anymore

According to many law enforcement officers, heroin use has spread from dark alleyways and dirty bathrooms to almost every facet of Utah life, and it’s not as easy to spot an addict as many believe. Treatment and arrest statistics show that they might be men or women, fathers or mothers, business men or athletes. Even missionaries have been caught in the clutches of the drug.

This fact was especially pronounced in a recent large-scale bust at the beginning of May. Eleven alleged drug dealers were arrested, and large amounts of heroin, cash and vehicles were seized. In addition, forty more arrests were made of customers who didn’t know about the bust and were trying to contact the dealers.

Eighty percent of the arrested customers were from Utah County. Salt Lake City Police officers report that many arrests made in the city are from Utah County addicts who either can’t or don’t want to buy heroin in their own “backyard,” so they are willing to drive the 100 mile round trip to get it.

However, many of them are staying right at home. In fact, the Utah County Major Crimes task force has already surpassed their goal for the year to seize 10 pounds of heroin by 1,200 percent. Currently they are at 136 pounds.

If Happy Valley isn’t immune, the rest of the state could be in trouble.

A Sign of a Bigger Problem

Many professionals agree that one reason people end up struggling with heroin is because they start with something much more commonplace. Very often prescription pills–usually pain killers–lead to heroin use when the patient finds him/herself addicted and unable to either afford or obtain medications such as OxyContin or morphine.

It can be a domino affect. An injury can not only lead to the use of prescription pain killers, but it can also cause external factors which lead to stress in the user. Sometimes income is lost as a result of a long-term injury. Personal relationships can also be strained. All of these factors multiply, and the user has another reason to use heroin instead of dealing with their problems.

Gordon Bruin from the Utah County Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment has 25 years of experience counseling addicts. He explained that heroin affects the part of the brain that is wired to avoid pain and suffering, something that most of the addicts he has treated seem to possess. Bruin–among others–believes that users need to get to the root of why they are hooked on the drug in the first place before it’s too late.

Governor Herbert Takes Action

In addition to growing usage, the most recently available data shows heroin-related deaths hit a 12-year high in 2012. In a report from the Utah Department of Health, 446 Utahns died from heroin use from 2008-2012.

These deaths are the part of the problem Governor Gary Herbert recently attempted to address when he approved two bits of legislation.

Herbert and the state of Utah have joined eighteen other states and the District of Columbia in enacting a form of 911 drug immunity law. These types of laws generally will provide immunity from low level offenses such as drug possession or use when a person calls 911 or seeks assistance for a drug overdose either for themselves or others.

The other law excludes people from liability if they are acting in good faith and give Naloxone to a person experiencing a opiate-related overdose.

As the latter law is so specific, most experts are looking to the 911 immunity legislation to help the problem. The key will be education. Washington was one of the first states to pass such legislation in 2008 and results of a University of Washington study are still being evaluated. However, one clear figure was that only about one-third of opiate users surveyed reported that they knew about the immunity (almost ninety percent said they would be more likely to call 911 as a result). Law enforcement officials need to be aware as well. The study has reported that to-date, no negative consequences have been reported. Only time will tell if Utah will see positive results from this new legislation.

Seeking Help for Heroin Use

If you are struggling with heroin addiction, there are several numbers you can contact.

Salt Lake County: 801-468-2009

Utah County: 801-851-7128

Davis County: 801-773-7060

If you are in legal trouble as a result of your heroin use, make sure you contact an experienced and professional criminal defense attorney.

Utah County Drug Distribution Ring Follows Corporate Structure

Utah County Drug Distribution Corporation

Photo: Derek E-Jay

A recent SWAT raid in a Lehi Utah neighborhood uncovered a drug distribution ring which police report was handling its business with the efficiency of a major corporation. Unfortunately, while this type of big business may be legal with our neighbors to the east, in Utah it still constitutes a felony.

Running a Tight Ship

This particular drug ring allegedly distributed cocaine and methamphetamine through a complicated but well-managed corporate structure, including separate departments for accounts receivable, transportation, security and sales. One of the defendants in the case, Josue Castellanos, has been compared to the CEO of the ring, carrying out such actions as organizing drug shipment payments, handling deposits and other funds transfers. Castellanos has been charged with engaging in a criminal enterprise, drug distribution and laundering money. Castellanos, along with several of the other 13 defendants, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Location, Location, Location

In addition to running the organization like a publicly traded company, law enforcement has stated that another reason the drug ring was so successful was because of their location. For one, many of the defendants grew up in Utah. And in what was most likely a tongue-in-cheek comment given the circumstances, Lt. Phil Murphy, who oversees the Utah County Major Crimes Task Force, called Utah County a friendly place to conduct business. Finally, even though the drugs were imported from Mexico, Murphy also pointed out the fact that drug wars are almost non-existent in Utah.

Drug Distribution Not Just a Ringleader Offense

While this particular incident may bring to mind large scale operations a la Breaking Bad or Good Fellas, drug distribution isn’t just the higher end offenders. While law enforcement may speculate that the drug trade is moving away from the days of one or two guys divvying up a bag of marijuana to their friends, that action still counts as drug distribution. As does sharing such prescription drugs as sleeping pills or pain killers. If you have been charged with or being investigated for any of these crimes, contact a respected and experienced Utah criminal defense attorney.

Illegal Drug Dealers Still Enjoying the Repeal of the Requirement to Pay Sales Tax on Their Products

Photo: StockMonkeys.com

Photo: StockMonkeys.com

Utah Senate Bill 243, which repealed the Illegal Drug Sales Tax Stamp Act almost two years, may still be heralded as one of the more important legislative measures ever to come before the governor.

Getting Rid of Pesky Laws

If you are asking yourself, “what was the Illegal Drug Sales Tax Stamp Act?” don’t despair–we’re here to keep you up-to-date on the vital matters that affect our fair state.

This act was designed to have dealers of illegal drugs purchase a tax stamp from the Utah State Tax Commission so that appropriate sales tax could be collected by the state of Utah. The amount of tax to be collected for the illegal drugs depended on the amount and type of drug.

$3.50 per gram of marijuana

$200 per gram of “controlled substance” like cocaine or heroin

$2000 per dosage unit of a controlled substance that wasn’t sold by weight

Believe it or not, 60% of the money collected for illegal drug taxes was earmarked for law enforcement agencies’ efforts to enforce controlled substance laws.

Illegal Drug Sales Tax Law Not Meant to Get Folks in Trouble

Lest you think that this Act was created in order to catch illegal drug dealers, don’t worry. No identifying information was to be collected from the dealer when purchasing the tax stamp(s), and any person who took it upon himself to disclose any information obtained from a illegal drug sales tax stamp customer could find himself slapped with a class A misdemeanor for his efforts.

Not Likely Much Mourning with the Deletion of This Law

It’s not too hard to see why this particular law was repealed. There honestly couldn’t have been a whole lot of sales tax revenue being generated by law-abiding drug dealers paying sales tax on their product.

Since it’s not April 1, you can be assured that this particular blog post is not a joke. Sometimes, however, there are some entertaining laws (or repealing of that type of law) just too good to pass up on poking a little fun at.

Let an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney be your guide if you’ve been caught in the middle of any legal trouble. Make that important phone call today.