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Could police do more to catch heroin dealers?

I really want to know who sold my roommate the dope that killed him. I finally got the police report. The police did nothing to track down his killer.

I know that to the police Patrick was just another junkie who took his own life when he decided to stick a needle in his arm. Except he didn’t.Man Receiving Bad News On Phone

You see, police and a lot of other people don’t understand that addicts like Patrick don’t have a choice. They don’t choose to shoot dope any more than people with trichotillomania choose to pull out their hair.

It’s part of the stigma and misunderstanding about addiction that keeps cops from investigating overdose deaths as homicides. Whether we say it out loud or just quietly believe it, we blame drug addicts just as much as we blame drug dealers – and that it wrong.

As a result, the dealers remain free and continue selling lethal drugs.

Law enforcement and prosecutors need to understand that addiction is not a disease of choice. Drug dealers are selling death to people with a disease that physically prevents them from saying “no.”

Here’s why:

Opioids like heroin and fentanyl – which killed Patrick – hijack addicts’ brains. They disrupt the production and regulation of dopamine – the neurotransmitter responsible for reward and motivation. Less blood flows to regions of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control.

In other words, addicts’ brains are structurally different than the brain of  healthy people. Addicts lose the ability to stop despite catastrophic consequences. Dr. Nora Volkow, direction of the National Institute on Drug Abuse describes addiction like this: It’s like driving a car without brakes. No matter how much you want to stop, you can’t.

So, the killer that sold Patrick the drugs that killed him actually murdered him – just like the pill-mill doctors who prescribed opioids like oxycontin to patients they knew were drug addicts. It’s murder.

As a journalist, I recently covered a case of a drug dealer who was charged with selling the fatal dose of heroin that killed an addict. A jury convicted him and he will be sentenced later this month.

But what’s interesting is that it wasn’t the cops who found the killer. It was the parents. You see, the cops didn’t do a very good investigation. They left behind the addict’s cell phone – which in the days following the young man’s death got numerous calls from “Slim.”

The parents didn’t answer the calls. The father, who had a connection in the sheriff’s office, wondered if Slim might be his son’s dealer and gave the phone to detectives. Turned out the father was right. A string of text messages between Slim and the addict in the hours and days before the addict’s death made the connection.

The police report says police confiscated Patrick’s phone but weren’t able to open it because it was password protected. However, the cops – who spent hours searching Patrick’s bedroom while I sat in the driveway in the middle of the night – left behind two other phones. I haven’t been able to get into them, either.

But this got me thinking: what if the cops subpeonaed Patrick’s phone records – or just asked his parents for the last bill. Then they would have all the incoming and outgoing phone numbers of everyone Patrick contacted on the day he died.

Maybe one of those numbers is Patrick’s dealer.

Maybe I have been an investigative reporter too long and watched a few too many episodes of CSI, but what if cops confiscated cell phones from overdose victims and created a database of the numbers in those phones.  Very likely, the dealer’s number is among the last calls or text those addicts made.

Likewise, what if  every time that cops bust a dealer they enter the numbers from the dealers’ phone into another database – and then cross-reference the two databases and look for connections.

Maybe – just maybe – they might find dealers who sold lethal batches of drugs to overdose victims. Better yet, maybe that might help identify supply chains, which could lead to the arrest of bigger fish.

As a reporter, I have created these kinds of databases with phone records of public officials. It helped me uncover croneyism in public agencies. It is not hard – but collecting and entering data into these databases is very time consuming.

So, my question to cops is, how badly do you want to catch the dealer that killed my roommate?

Could police do more to catch heroin dealers?

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2016). Could police do more to catch heroin dealers?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 Oct 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Oct 2016
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