Heroin link to property crimes in Carson City has Sheriff Ken Furlong 'very concerned'

When Sheriff Ken Furlong sees a rise in certain types of crimes in Carson City, he knows he has a bigger problem - drugs.

"The trend in property crimes is going up, especially the last six months of 2011. Residential burglaries and business break-ins are directly related to drug addictions," Furlong said. "The recent surge in crime indicates to us that drug use is on the increase."

And while 10 years ago, the community battled a methamphetamine epidemic, the crisis these days could be even more insidious - heroin.

"In the 1990s and into the 2000s, meth was out of control, so were gangs, so we put a lot of resources into those. That's when Partnership Carson City stepped in, and thankfully, all that paid off, because meth was a public nuisance across the nation by 2005," Furlong said.

"Meth users are still around, but now we're starting to see a lot more heroin, and it's on the increase. The connection to our crime statistics is that drug users cause many of the property crimes in order to support their drug activities," he said.

Furlong recalls something said by Barry Smith, former Nevada Appeal editor, now director of the Nevada Press Association.

"It has stuck with me all these years. He said that to reduce meth usage is to suggest you have a tolerance level, and there should be zero tolerance, so we shifted our approach to zero tolerance," Furlong said.

"The other thing he said was that if and when we succeed, there will be indications of something else emerging. Those two things have stuck with me all these years," he said.

Smith, who still is on the executive board of Partnership Carson City, as well as its steering committee, said the partnership was focused on meth at the time because of its rampant use but that he feared another drug would emerge if the meth mystique could be destroyed.

"It's not just the drugs," he said. "It's the people who are prone to addictions, so the approach needs to be from educational and treatment and law enforcement," Smith said.

Furlong agreed.

"There is no such thing as a small problem. I am very, very concerned about the increase in property crimes - burglaries, thefts, robberies. It could be worsening, and my experts are telling me that it's because of heroin," he said.

For Furlong, the drug problem starts at home.

"In every case, heroin use begins in the medicine cabinet at home with prescription drugs, and it's epidemic. Those prescription meds can end up in the wrong hands. It's a no-brainer from there - it leads to addictions," he said.

"These are people in pain - either physical or emotional, but we have special enforcement teams who go after it with a vengeance," he said.

Sgt. Earl Mays, part of the department's Special Enforcement Team, or SET, said families need to be careful.

"A sip of beer is not OK, or smoking, or giving someone a Vicodin for pain," Mays said. "And if you suspect a problem with someone in your family, it's already out of control."

He suggests that parents call the sheriff's office if they have children with drug problems.

"We tell them, 'We're not here to arrest you, we're here to help you,'" Mays said.

Mays' partner, Dan Gomes, said a lot has to do with the people they're hanging out with. When someone wants to get clean, the best way to do it is to leave town, because in a town as small as Carson City, it's hard to avoid old friends," he said.

"You need six months of sobriety before you're totally clean, because it takes over your life," Gomes said.

The sheriff's department focus on drugs is necessary, Furlong said, because drug users dictate the quality of life for the rest of the community.

"They start by stealing from their families, and then move out into the community to commit their crimes. If you have a heroin user, you have a thief," he said.

"The message for family units is that there is no such thing as a little use. Those are gateway drugs, especially with heroin. We need to step up our family intervention," he said.


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