What can be done to stop the grim and increasingly deadly flow of drugs into this city? In the last week, eight people have died from heroin overdoses, and the total number of drug-overdose deaths for the year has reached 72, already more than the 62 reported drug deaths in all of last year. At city clinics to help addicts, there is an increase in activity, too, with hundreds more people being seen through the first four months of this year than during the same period last year. The cost of drug activity in lost lives, if not deaths, is only one part of the story. There is also the increase in crime attributed to drug use. Police Chief Maurice Turner has laid blame for the high crime rate on desperate addicts, stealing and mugging to get the money necessary to buy drugs.
For the past several years, the city government has been reduced to a game of neighborhood hopscotch in trying to deal with the drug problem. When the addicts and the low-life who cater to their needs cluster at one corner, intimidating neighborhood people and ruining normal businesses, the police try to scatter them, succeeding in pushing the carnival of destroyed lives onto someone else's front stoop. But they are unable to keep the horror from spreading. There seems to be no stopping the real problem--the incursion of drugs into the city.
In fact, the police report that there is now more heroin and better quality heroin available in Washington than there has been in the last 10 years. This glut has cheapened the price--reportedly one dealer was even giving away free samples--and encouraged addicts to "turn-on" their friends, accounting for some of the increase in drug use.
One way to stop the flow is to go after the major dealers in this area with an assault of police and legal know-how. This is being done to a limited extent. For example, District police, the Internal Revenue Service and federal prosecutors worked together in making the arrest last week of a man alleged to have sold more than $1 million worth of drugs a year. On a wider scale, this kind of action could play a key part in curtailing the availability of drugs.
At the moment, there are two consistent efforts of that kind. The first is that of a task force of 31 law enforcement agents, 17 from the District police department, five from police departments in the counties and nine from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. This effort is aimed at identifying the area's heroin distribution system and arresting its biggest operators. The second is taking place at local airports, where customs officials, together with local police and the DEA, are working to increase the effectiveness of surveillance to intercept drugs coming into the area.
These are the types of efforts that, when combined with necessary policing of city streets, can have some real effect on the spread of heroin in this city. The task force and the airport surveillance must be increased in size and scoe, however, if they are to do more than only nip at the monster's heels.