Baltimore Mayor .. “we gave them space to destroy “
DEA: Prescription drugs stolen in Baltimore flooding the streets
The open-air drug markets of Baltimore are flush with new product this summer. The source, at least in part, is more than 30 pharmacies and clinics looted in riots following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
More than 175,000 doses of opiates and other prescription drugs were stolen and are now on the streets, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Enough Oxycodone, Suboxone, Morphine, Fentanyl and other drugs says the DEA to keep the city’s drug users high for a year – A gift from the Mayor ?
In a city with a large heroin-addicted market, the influx of looted drugs is adding to the problems facing police and city officials already struggling to deal with a sharp rise in shootings and murders. Law enforcement officials believe the new flow of prescription pills will breed new addicts and more violence. Many of those addicts will turn to cheaper heroin from the open drug markets later.
In response to the city’s plea for help, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies are seeking to prosecute the leaders of gang and drug dealing organizations.
Gary Tuggle, who grew up in Baltimore’s east side and worked as a Baltimore cop, says his agency has drawn a list of potential suspects. Before taking over the agency’s Philadelphia office, Tuggle led the DEA’s efforts in Baltimore. He allowed CNN to tag along for a first-hand view of the drug markets and his agency’s effort to thwart them.
Back when Tuggle was a Baltimore police officer more than a decade ago, he recalls “the street purity of heroin was 2-5%. Today we are seeing purity levels up to 80-85% and then some cases, a kilo of heroin would cost $140-160,000. Today you can get it for between $65 and $70,000 so you see the economics of it when you have a level of supply and level of demand that uses that inventory its literally bringing the cost down and purity levels up.”
According to the DEA, prescription opiates can go for as much as one dollar per milligram and it doesn’t take long for users to run out of money to support their prescription habit, eventually turning to the imported black tar heroin from Mexico or powder heroin from Asia, which is much stronger and cheaper.
In the neighborhoods surrounding where Freddie Gray was initially arrested, more vacant homes are appearing, more shops are closing, which means “the drug dealers have the corners for themselves,” according to Tuggle.
According to the DEA, the influx of drugs on the streets is inflaming turf wars between gangs and independent drug dealers who are competing for territory, which is vital to a drug dealer’s revenue stream.
“In some cases you have the gangs taxing other gangs or independent drug dealers,” Tuggle says. Other times, gangs feel their territory is being threatened, which leads to a disruption in the balance of power and “that’s only going to lead to violence.”
That partly, police say, explains the 42 murders in May, Baltimore’s deadliest month in 15 years.
Signs of the fresh supply of drugs are visible, Tuggle tells CNN during a ride past Baltimore’s heaviest drug-trafficked sections.
The alleys — or “dips” as they are known to law enforcement — where most of the deals used to go down are largely empty. Because of the thinner police presence in the area, they are free to operate in the open.
In one neighborhood of row-houses about two miles from the tourist attractions of the Inner Harbor neighborhood, it’s not long before cars come to a stop in front of two pedestrians engaged in an alleged drug deal in the middle of the road.
“Twenty-five years ago when I grew up here, you didn’t see open air drug deals,” Tuggle said. “That was something you didn’t see, you had to go into the alleys to find those deals. Today as you’ve seen, it happens in the open.”
In some areas, the presence of the DEA agents in unmarked cars are quickly noticed.
“Five-O,” some called out. Lookouts immediately alerted the dealers and customers to the presence of law enforcement. Some were kids, agents said, as young as 10 years old paid $50-$100 a day to ride their bikes on corners and whistle at the first sight of police or suspicious, unmarked cars.
Agents say drug users know which parts of town are best for heroin or other drugs: from the Sandtown area, with a booming heroin market, to the streets outside the historic Lexington Market in downtown, where prescription opiates have shown up, according to agents. Agents say the drug users are easy to pick out because of their tell-tale “nod,” some leaning over precariously without falling over during their high.
Outside a methadone clinic, teeming by 8 a.m., the streets and alleys were buzzing. Agents say at least some in the crowd were dealers and users either attempting to ween themselves off the opiates, or immediately selling daily methadone dose for a quick buck to spend on more heroin.
Tuggle says that law-abiding residents of areas most affected by the drug dealing are victims of drug users who come from all over the region. The DEA is now circulating pictures of up to 70 individuals they say are directly responsible for the surplus of looted drugs.
“At the end of the day these communities have very, very decent people, hardworking people who want to work and educate their families and support their families. But at the end of the day you would see what I call piranha. A lot of these people dealing in these neighborhoods are not from these neighborhoods. Some of them have nice homes in the suburbs or they live in high rise apartment sin downtown Baltimore. So they come into these communities to take advantage of these communities.”
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