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Charlotte sees dramatic rise in heroin use, deaths

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have seized five times as much heroin so far this year as they did in all of 2008. And so far this year, five times as many people have died from heroin overdoses in Charlotte. Those figures led Mayor Pat McCrory to sound the alarm at a press conference yesterday. WFAE's Julie Rose reports. Cocaine and marijuana are still the biggest drug problems in Charlotte, but heroin use has jumped so dramatically it's got Mayor Pat McCrory thinking about his early days in office. "Fourteen years ago, when I was first elected mayor, we were in the midst of a major drug war," recalls McCrory. "We were having incredible demand for crack cocaine and heroin. I don't want to get back to that stage." (click here for press conference transcript). The latest surge in heroin use seems to have crept up on Charlotte, as it has many communities across the country. At the end of last year, the U.S. Department of Justice warned that a wave of heroin use could be coming nationwide. It has certainly played out in Charlotte. Last year local police seized just over a thousand grams of heroin. So far this year, police have seized five thousand grams - most of it a sticky black version called "black tar heroin." Police Chief Rodney Monroe says the rates are highest among 17 to 25 years olds from all races, income levels and neighborhoods. They're attracted by heroin's low price. A dose is going for 10 bucks - about half the cost of cocaine and prescription pain killers. Monroe says easy access is the other problem. "We're seeing direct sources from Mexico showing up at our doorsteps," says Chief Monroe. "No longer are you going through two or three sources before it hits the street. Plus the way that it's being sold: You know picking up the phone, these young kids cell phoning, calling up the dealer, driving around for a while making sure everything's clear and the sale taking place in everyday neighborhoods." In the last three months, Charlotte police say they've shut down 7 heroin distribution cells. But police also the Mexico cartels have sophisticated business plans. As quickly as one dealer is arrested, another is usually on the way from Mexico to take his place. Mayor McCrory has asked the police chief and sheriff to explore ways to drug test more people in the county jail. That might help the city get a better handle on how the heroin problem is affecting other crimes. McCrory is also urging parents to be more vigilant in preventing their teens' drug use.