Battling narcotics is a full-time job
According to Summit County Lieutenant Greg Winterton, local lawmen took 144 drug dealers off the street in 2010 and 2011, but their work has barely made a dent in the narcotics trade in Summit and Wasatch counties.
"When we arrest one, there’s always somebody ready to take his place," said Winterton who leads a specialized team of officers from the Summit and Wasatch county sheriff’s departments and the Park City Police Department. With the help of a $75,000 grant from the state, the four members of BackNET (Wasatch Back Narcotics Enforcement Team) work full time investigating and apprehending drug dealers.
"It’s the dealers, the person giving that innocent person their first hit of heroin, that’s what we need to stop, because that is where they get hooked. It really is the distributors that we are after."
When pressed to characterize the offenders, he is quick to point out that they cross all ethnic and socio-economic boundaries and they are not specific to one town. "If you live on the East Side or West Side in Summit County, you are not exempt from seeing it. It is very prevalent in every church, in every group from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich," he added. The only generalities are that a majority of the case files involve males ranging in age from 18 to 30.
Winterton, who has been in law enforcement for 16 years, the last 10 in Summit County, said he has seen users as young 12 and arrested dealers as young as 14.
In the last two years alone, he said, dispatchers in the two counties have fielded 33 drug overdose reports, of which 23 were fatal.
"That’s the problem. We are losing one person, on average, per month to an overdose on drugs," said Winterton.
Over the years, he noted, there have been trends that favored particular drugs although heroin and cocaine are always part of the mix.
"For a few months all we were finding was heroin. Most recently, meth has made a big splash on the scene and there has been a big influx of marijuana, of late."
Money, he said, often leads to the users’ downfall. With Oxycontin selling for as much as $80 per dose, Winterton says some users switch to heroin, which is cheaper. But supporting either habit is expensive, so kids start committing burglaries and pawning the goods. Female users, he said, may end up trading sex for drugs. "It’s just a vicious cycle."
Meth and heroine are among the most insidious drugs he sees. "Meth is a one-time deal and you are hooked," he said, adding that heroin wields the same power. "You take a couple hits and you are pretty much going to get addicted."
Unfortunately, he said, the users build up a tolerance to the drugs. If they have been drug-free for a while and then relapse, they may be especially prone to overdosing. "If they’ve been in jail for a few days and become sober and then go back to the same friends, their bodies may have lost that tolerance," he said
Overall, Winterton, who has spent the last few years on the front lines of Summit County’s war on drugs, is not optimistic. When asked how the community might do a better job of stemming the tide of narcotics use, he shook his head. "I wish I had the answer."
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The County Council doled out grants supporting ventures ranging from discounting plane tickets to supporting a classical music festival.