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DEA Agent Discusses the Rise of Heroin in Seattle

by Sharon Frajlich

According to SAMHSA, the number of people reported to have used heroin in the past year rose 53.5% between 2002 to 2011. While this statistic alone is shocking, it’s who comprises this rising percent that’s truly forcing researchers, doctors and parents to reevaluate the association that was once given to heroin users. Since 2008, more than half of those using heroin are women and the majority are young adults under the age of 30.

In an interview with Seattle DEA Special Agent Jodie Underwood, she tells us some facts behind this growing prevalence of opiate youth in the Pacific Northwest area in hopes of achieving prevention through awareness.

AllTreatment: Where is the majority of the heroin supply coming from and what measures have been taken to interfere its importation?

Jodie Underwood: Black tar heroin remains the most prevalent form of heroin within the Pacific Northwest. Black tar heroin is produced in Mexico and imported into the Pacific Northwest by Mexican poly-drug trafficking groups. We have seen an increase in our seizures of heroin in the PNW. In the Seattle/Tacoma area, DEA has seized over 200 pounds of heroin in the last nine months. The SW border has also seen an increase in seizures – 300% increase from 2008-2012.

AT: How has the purity level of heroin changed and how has that affected its consumption?

JU: Purity levels in the Pacific Northwest have and continue to remain at lower levels. We have seen a few seizures that have had slight spike. Please keep in mind that DEA’s investigations involve large scale drug trafficking organizations who source the quantities to lower level distributors. Thus, when we have a seizure, it is going to be in large quantities and as an example in March 2013, we seized 53 pounds of heroin which was destined for distribution in the greater Seattle area.

Larger quantities such as this are then broken down for distribution and then distributed down again. When this chain of distribution occurs, the dealer will stretch their product out by adding dilatants. Meaning as an example, one pound of heroin can be diluted and stretched to make it a total of two pounds.

AT:What are some reasons you can attribute to this increase in heroin use? Is there a correlation between the accessibility and growing market of prescription drugs and the use of heroin?

JU: DEA does not track use or abuse. Our intelligence indicates that due to changes in the prescription OxyContin formula and the availability, that heroin is cheaper alternative. Drug traffickers are businessmen who see an opportunity to fill a void and make money.

The resurgence of heroin is attributed to these traffickers filling a void and the demand. Heroin is a very dangerous drug that is schedule I drug with no medicinal purposes. Drug traffickers are about money and greed and do not care what happens to the user.

AT: What sort of action is being taken in an attempt to reverse this trend?

JU: Although we presently have significant amount of our resources dedicated to combat heroin trafficking, law enforcement cannot do this alone. Just as when the prescription drug epidemic began, prevention through education was and is a key factor. This is no different. There is three pronged approach which is prevention through education, treatment and enforcement.

Although DEA’s primary mission is enforcement we do understand the importance of prevention through education. We have programs that involve education - a few examples are speaking to school children of all ages and other public speaking events.

Sharon Frajlich is an editor at

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