Former drug dealer details growth of heroin use in Northeast Ohio

CLEVELAND - Heroin killed more people in Cuyahoga County last year than car accidents or homicides.

A NewsChannel5 investigation revealed new information about the heroin epidemic in our area.

Agreeing to speak in shadow, Will doesn’t want to you know his full name or see his face.

"Most of the people I grew up with are either dead, in the penitentiary or waiting to be one of the two,” he said.

"Marijuana, ecstasy, methamphetamines, heroin, pills. You name it. If there was something to sell, if there was a dollar to be made off of it, I did it,” he said.

Will began selling heroin in the early 2000s in Cleveland. He said his main customers were prescription pill addicts.

“It was always easier for these people to come and buy a $10 bag or heroin off of me that will last longer and the high is more intense than an $8 pill where they need three or four to get the same high,” he said.

According to law enforcement agents, brown heroin is the type of the drug most commonly sold in Northeast Ohio. When dealers cut it and then sell it on the streets, it resembles brown sugar.


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Agents said one kilogram of brown heroin contains 10,000 doses and is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Another type of heroin called “black tar” is also available in Northeast Ohio, but is far less common than brown heroin.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol gave NewsChannel5 investigators rare access to its drug storage unit, which contains approximately 30,000 pieces of evidence.

For security reasons, NewsChannel5 investigators were asked not to reveal its location.

We can tell you the room contains at least several hundred cardboard boxes, hundreds of envelopes and numerous filing cabinets filled with illegal drugs seized by patrol officers.

"I see marijuana the most and heroin the second most. We've seen so much more heroin than we had even a year ago,” said Lynn Strainic, a criminalist for the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

Grown in Mexico, heroin usually enters the U.S. through Texas or Arizona, according to law enforcement sources.

Couriers usually carry the drug in cars or commercial vehicles using major highways.

State highway patrol officers said heroin often enters Ohio via Chicago or Detroit.

Once in Ohio, Columbus is a major distribution center for the drug.  

"Columbus is kind of the hub in Ohio for all different type of drugs,” said Sgt. Tim Timberlake.

Timberlake is a part of an Ohio State Highway Patrol unit targeting criminals on Ohio’s highways.

NewsChannel5 investigators spent an afternoon with Sgt. Timberlake as he worked I-71 near Cleveland.

In minutes, patrol officers located a car suspected of carrying heroin. The unit’s K-9 quickly detected the scent of drugs. Officers spent several minutes searching the vehicle without success.

"There were some needles shoved up underneath the back seat. We haven't found any heroin. it's just the needles,” said Timberlake.

Officers said drug dealers will go to great lengths to conceal their supply.

"We've found drugs in everything from small compact vehicles to semi-tractor trailers,” said OSHP Lt. Michael Combs. Combs is the head of Timberlake’s unit.

"They use their imagination very well in terms of where to hide the drugs,” he said.

OSHP officers showed NewsChannel5 investigators one of the most sophisticated hidden compartments officers have ever seen.

An undercover officer explained how the compartment was concealed: "You have to start the truck and then you push the parking brake down, and then once the parking break is set, then you manually pull the seat up and the taillights will come out, revealing the compartment,” he said.

The hidden compartment was discovered when officers pulled over Stan Hatch, 67, in 2010 in Medina County.

Officers said Hatch eventually confessed how the compartment worked. He is now serving an eight-year sentence at Allen Correctional Institution.

Will’s story has a happier ending.

"I never wanted to become the person that I was,” said Will.

Will was not only a drug dealer, he was an addict.

Click here for help with heroin addiction.

Three years ago, he went to rehab for seven months. Now, he no longer sells drugs; has a job and is going to college.

“When I go to bed at night, I go to bed at night knowing that I worked a hard full day and that my money is honest,” he said.


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