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Fighting the opioid crisis: On the streets with APD Drug Unit

It's being pressed into pills, mixed with cutting agents, and put into the hands of your children, neighbors, or friends. News 13 is taking a closer look at the front line fight against opioid abuse in the mountains. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

A silent killer is working its way through many neighborhoods here in the mountains.

It's being pressed into pills, mixed with cutting agents, and put into the hands of your children, neighbors, or friends. News 13 is taking a closer look at the front line fight against opioid abuse in the mountains.

RELATED | Fighting the opioid crisis: Inside mountain ER's

Chances are if you've driven through Asheville in the last year, you've passed within a block of where someone has overdosed. The problem is that big, but finding out what they overdosed from isn't as easy.

An overlooked trail winds its way through Asheville's neighborhoods. It runs along Patton Avenue, off Merrimon Avenue, down to Hendersonville Road. Along that trail, Asheville Police’s Drug Suppression Unit has picked up what it calls "breadcrumbs."

“They're looking at overdoses in what area they are. They call them hot spots,” Lt. Geoffery Rollins of the Asheville Police Department said.

The "breadcrumbs" lead toward a killer blamed for nine deaths in Asheville in 2016 and a total of 31 within Buncombe County, all related to heroin.

Half of the deaths are fentanyl related when it is laced into heroin. Fentanyl's similar to morphine but 100 times more powerful.

“They'll test it out with a couple of users to determine how potent it is and then go from there. But, unfortunately, it affects different people in different ways,” Rollins said.

It's just as dangerous to officers collecting evidence and overdosing when they come in contact with fentanyl.

“We're not field testing any suspected heroin or fentanyl. We're sending it to the state bureau of investigation lab,” Rollins said.

Multiple overdoses a day are becoming more common, according to 911 dispatchers. In 2016, the drug unit was dispatched to 117 overdoses, but reports don't reveal what caused those overdoses.

“Any given day, we can have as many as 30 or 40 active tips we're working on with the community calling into us, letting us know about suspected drug activity,” Rollins said.

Calls for overdoses at retail stores and in two dozen parking lots, the majority along Patton Avenue. Repeatedly, police were called to 13 homes, one location, as many as five times.

“EMS or fire personnel have beat us to the scene and they all carry Narcan and can revive suspects, and we see people who are revived and don't want anything to do with us, don't want to be transported to the hospital,” Rollins said.

The city is tracking it behind closed doors. Crime analysts investigate trends.

“Anytime we can target a source of supply, it's going to make an impact on what's available, and I've seen that throughout my career with marijuana, methamphetamine, and crack cocaine, and heroin's just the new drug of trade,” Rollins said.

But solutions aren't as fresh.

“We're not going to be able to arrest our way out of this or seize any significant amount that's going to cause a reduction,” Rollins explained.

With key data and information missing from public reports, Michelle Geiser at Hope RX, a non-profit coalition battling prescription drug abuse, said solutions won't come easy.

“There are going to be just pockets of information that aren't being fully captured in the way that they need to be, so that we can fully understand who this is affecting,” Geiser said.

What's missing is who's tracking how Narcan or Naloxone, the drug that reverses overdose effects, is being used, and how many doses it's taking to bring someone back. Knowing that is important to be able to provide more resources for treatment and to get money for different treatment options.

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