TORONTO - It's a never-ending job, but someone has to do it.
That's the blunt assessment offered by Toronto Police Chief Randy Henry when he discusses attempts to combat heroin trafficking in the city and the other crimes and fallout associated with it. Henry said the department spends a good deal of its time dealing with addiction-related crimes, ranging from petit theft from local businesses to an addict stealing from his or her family. Henry said at the moment it's the department's biggest problem.
"Heroin (use) goes up and down here," he said, adding right now heroin is the drug of choice for many addicts. "We'll get a rash of it, then it dies down."
FRANK DISCUSSION — Toronto Police Chief Randy Henry sat down and talked candidly about the city’s heroin problem, the crimes associated with it and the City Police’s efforts to stay on top of the issue. — Mark J. Miller
Toronto has had its share of high-profile drug arrests in the past year, and the chief expects that to continue in 2014.
Henry said because physicians and police officers have cracked down on the abuse of prescription medications, heroin has become the first choice for many addicts residing in the city.
"We're getting calls about (finding needles) several times a week," he said. "They throw them out the window. We're finding them all over the place, even at Newburg Landing (the city park.)"
Henry said needles also have been found in parking lots of local businesses and in the yards of residents. He said most of those using the drug are younger adults, usually unemployed, who may have had substance abuse problems in the past. But heroin is a different animal, he said.
"It takes over your whole life," he said. "It's not something people enjoy doing. It's the drug of last resort. It's cheap, and it's easy to find. I don't see how people can stick a needle in their arm, but they do it."
Henry said the drug knows no boundaries and can be found in every socioeconomic class.
"There are overdoses and addicts in every kind of family," he said. "It's not just the poor and uneducated (who become addicts). It's in every class of family."
Henry said many addicts turn to stealing as a way of life and can't stop on their own because the drug is so addictive. Many addicts continue the pattern until they are eventually arrested.
"(Getting arrested) forces them to quit because they couldn't quit on their own," said the chief. "We've had people come by and thank us for arresting them because they couldn't quit on their own.
"They are stealing from their family," he continued. "They are going to get high any way they can. They are looking for their next victim. And they are becoming more clever in their thievery."
Henry said dealers from Chicago find Jefferson County to be a ripe market for the drug.
"We have enough of our own idiots here," he said. "We don't need idiots from (outside the area coming in to deal drugs). They've found a market here. We don't need that.
"Drugs and guns - they go together," he continued. "An addict will steal off another addict first. They can't report that crime, though. It's out there every day. One guy gets knocked off, and another one takes over."
Henry said the lack of in-patient facilities is a big problem in the county, and he's highly skeptical about out-patient programs.
He said most addicts don't have health insurance to pay for programs, and unless they can find a family member to pay for treatment they are on their own. He said most can't cope with a job or fail drug tests, so stealing becomes their only source of income. He said many addicts will go to extremes to steal, but can't or won't work.
"They obviously can't pass a drug test," he said.
Many addicts share needles or have sex and transmit diseases, he added. In the end it's not the job of the police to be a social service agency, but to enforce the law.
"That's our only option - to arrest them," said the chief. "Our only option is to put them in jail and let them dry out. It's a vicious cycle."