Crime increases as drug use does

Police say change in Oxy-Contin lead to rise in heroin addiction

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
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Protect your home from burglary

Lock all doors and windows at night and before leaving your home.

Leave your outside lights or porch lights on at night.

Photograph all of your valuables and keep track of serial numbers.

Don’t leave valuables in plain sight.

Consider who has access to your house. Are any of them using drugs?

If you answer the door and the person seems suspicious, take note of what they look like. Get a good look at their car and write down the license plate number if you can.

If you see someone at a neighbor’s house that you don’t recognize and your neighbor isn’t home, call 911. Police often catch burglars while they’re still in the house or just as they’re leaving.

Vancouver police say a greater percentage of drug-addicted young adults are responsible for the area's property crimes, including burglaries, commercial robberies, vehicle prowls and mail and auto thefts. Drug addicts looking to get a hit will do whatever they must to afford their habits.

"I'm very often surprised at how naïve people are about this connection between drug addiction and theft," said Cmdr. Mike Cooke, with the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force.

Property crimes are fueled by the need to get more drugs, he said. Drug addicts are often unemployed but need income to support their lifestyle.

County crime analyst Brian Salsig said for the last 11 years there has been a "moderate positive relationship" between the number of drug cases and the number of property crime cases. In other words, as one increases so does the other.

Heroin use is a growing problem in the Vancouver area; it's one of the harder drugs to quit. Female heroin addicts may resort to prostitution and post escort ads on Craigslist or Backpage.com, Cooke said. But both men and women will steal.

While the Clark County Sheriff's Office and Vancouver Police Department had the most combined drug cases in 2005, Salsig says that year the two agencies also had more personnel to deal with drug calls and lower priority cases such as property crimes, which may have led to more reporting.

A typical drug-addicted burglar will nab jewelry, guns and small electronics such as iPods and iPhones, but they will also go for larger items such as flat screen TVs. It all depends on what their motivation is and what the market demands. Some burglars will compile a "shopping list" of items wanted by those buying stolen goods.

Residential burglaries almost always happen in the daytime, Cooke said. Burglars typically drive around in a neighborhood they want to hit. They knock on the front door of a house and if someone answers, they'll make an excuse. If no one answers, they'll find a way in, get what they want and walk out.

Heroin addicts typically start by using OxyContin, a prescription painkiller and opioid derived from the same plant as heroin. The tablets are designed to slowly release the narcotic into the body over several hours. If crushed and injected, however, the effects of the drug are felt almost immediately. The producer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, reformulated the drug in 2010, making it harder to inhale or inject.

Teens who were prescribed OxyContin -- or found the drug in their parents' medicine cabinet and started using it to get high -- switched to harder drugs, such as heroin, as they got older. To afford their habit, they have to steal.

At about $8 a hit, Mexican tar or powder heroin is cheaper than OxyContin, which can cost $80 per pill on the black market.

A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that while OxyContin abuse dropped 17 percent, 66 percent of abusers turned to other opioids, namely heroin, following the reformulation. The effects of heroin withdrawal are extremely painful, even unbearable.

Cmdr. Dave King with the Vancouver Police Department wants the public to record as much info on their valuables as possible, so they have a greater chance of being recovered in case of theft. A photo and serial number can help in getting back belongings.

"It's frustrating to stop a car that you know is filled with stolen goods and let them go because you have no evidence of a positive match," he said.

Pawn shop owners keep photos of their inventory and thumbprints of the people who pawn them. Through the Northwest Regional Automated Property Information Database, police can match a photo of a reported stolen item to one that shows up at a pawn shop. If more people took photos of their valuables and used this system to identify the thief, then it might curb property crime.

"If you can't sell it, you don't steal it," King said.

With budget cuts and lowered staffing levels, police are diverted to other, higher priority cases, making property crimes tougher to investigate in a timely manner, King said.

The Drug Task Force focuses on targeting upper-level suppliers and affecting the supply. Officers, however, talk with drug users every day about their addiction and try to steer them toward treatment options.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.