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Law Officers Warn of Heroin “Tsunami” in Utah

Andrea Smardon
US Attorney John Huber says it's going to take a cooperative effort to address the "tidal wave" of heroin addiction in Utah.

Law enforcement officials are seeing an alarming rise in robberies in Utah, and they say heroin addiction is fueling it. The US Attorney for Utah hosted a press conference Thursday to call for help in addressing the problem.

Flanked by top local law enforcement leaders, prosecutors and federal officials, US Attorney John Huber warned that a tsunami of heroin addiction is sweeping across Utah.

“We’re in the early stages, these warnings are going off. The tidal wave is coming. It’s spreading through our neighborhood. We need to do something. We need to get to higher ground,” Huber says.  

In Utah last year, officials seized more than 244 pounds of heroin. That’s about seven times greater than the amount seized in 2012. Huber says the Sinaloa cartel has found a market in Utah, which ranks fifth in the nation for drug overdose deaths. Addicts are turning to bank and store robberies to fund their habit. Huber says federal and local officials are working together to arrest and prosecute violent offenders, but he says it’s not enough.

“We cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem,” Huber says. He noted that the typical heroin user starts off by becoming addicted to prescription pain pills, and medical providers need to play a role in preventing opioid addiction.  

“It’s time we wake up. This is a community problem,” says Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. “We need concrete solutions which involve more treatment beds. As we put them in jail, there’s nowhere for them to go.”

Winder warned that if the Utah legislature does not adequately fund treatment options in the criminal justice system, the tsunami will not abate. In the meantime, Salt Lake County has a proposed bond renewal to collect an annual $9.4 million from taxpayers for criminal justice, including services for offenders with addiction problems. Renewal of the bond requires approval from the County Council.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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