9 Investigates increase in heroin use

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ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates discovered a frightening trend that shows local heroin-related deaths are increasing at a troubling rate.

The deadly and highly addictive drug has made a comeback following the statewide crackdown on prescription drug abuse, according to local law enforcement experts.

Channel 9's Tim Barber found out why heroin is more dangerous than ever and asked what central Florida investigators are doing to get it off the streets.

But first, Barber talked to an Orange County man whose son is hooked on heroin. The father asked that he not be identified to protect his family.

“What do you say to people who say, ‘Heroin is not back. It can't be?’” Barber asked.

“They are naïve,” the father said. “It's back with a vengeance.”

His 22-year-old son was hurt in a car crash and became addicted to painkillers.  After the pill mill crackdown in 2011, however, he and many others turned to heroin, a cheaper high, but just as deadly.

The father never expected this kind of family problem.

“Just never thought it would be a part of my life at all,” he said.

Heroin targets the parts of the brain that produce the sensation of reward and physical dependence. Addicts say withdrawals can be painful.

Orange and Osceola county medical records show heroin-related deaths have tripled since 2010 when there were nine such deaths. By 2013, these two counties alone saw more than 30 deaths attributed in some way to heroin.

“The heroin today is a lot purer than what it was it was in the past,” said Lt. Buddy Riggi, who oversees narcotics cases with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation.

Riggi said pill poppers turn to heroin because it offers a similar high.

“What are you guys doing to make sure this stuff is off the streets?” Barber asked.

“We continue to actively investigate. Right now we have maybe a dozen cases that we are looking into,” Riggi said.

Eyewitness News was with MBI agents in November when they arrested nearly 20 people suspected of selling heroin across from Walker Middle School.

WFTV’s cameras were also rolling in December when Orange County deputies arrested 14 others for dealing the drug from a mobile home park off Dean Road near State Road 50 in East Orange.

Barber found stripped down trailers and others that were demolished after the suspected dealers were caught.

Residents in the trailer park said that helped but did not stop the problem.

“Are they still selling heroin over here?” Barber asked one resident.

“Yeah, oh yeah,” the resident said.

Another neighbor agreed but said a dealer threatened to kill him if Eyewitness News identified him or aired the interview.

Meanwhile, the father with the heroin-addicted son maintained that today’s heroin being sold on Orange County streets is just as lethal as the thugs who sell the drug.

He knows: His friend overdosed on heroin and died.

Now he is trying to save his son from the same fate.

“If you don’t get help quick enough, sooner or later something is going to happen," the worried father said.