A wave of heroin has hit Victoria, causing the highest statewide death toll by the devastating drug in nearly a decade.

Exclusive data reveals 134 people died of heroin-caused deaths in Victoria last year – the most annual fatalities since 2000 when the drug rivalled the road toll. Already this year, 59 heroin deaths have been verified – taking the total to almost 200 in less than two years – with 2009’s figure expected to rise dramatically as investigations into causes of death are completed. With heroin caps now selling for as little as $40 to $50 – about the same as a slab of beer – and police warning heroin purity and volumes are on the rise, experts predict scores more will die.
A Sunday Herald Sun investigation into drugs on Victorian streets reveals:
Drug detectives are battling Vietnamese organised crime syndicates which are using teams of mules to transport “alarming” quantities of heroin into Melbourne.
Victoria Police has compiled a hit list of more than 100 names of suspected couriers who will be detained if detected at airports.
While heroin is booming, an amphetamine drought has more than doubled the price of “ice” to up to $1000 a gram.
And, according to authorities, new groups are “champing at the bit” to fill the void in the speed market vacated by the execution and imprisonment of figures in the gangland war.
In an exclusive interview, one of the state’s top anti-drug enforcers, detective Sen-Sgt Dale Flynn, revealed the international heroin wave had started to break locally.”We’ve been anticipating some type of flood into Australia, into Victoria, and we’ve really just seen signs of that in the past six to 12 months,” he said.
Forensic, toxicology, police and corrections sources have noticed a rapid increase in heroin and its attendant harms in Victoria in recent months. “Identifying factors for us are we’re seizing more and the purity has increased and we’re getting more intelligence about heroin,” Sgt Flynn said. “If there was an increase in any particular drug, that would be a concern to us. Heroin is the one that has probably the most fatalities connected to it, so when that starts to increase that is a concern.”
A Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine report on heroin deaths, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun, details the startling rise in fatalities. A further analysis shows that including the part-year figures for 2009 from the National Coronial Information Service, there have been 2414 heroin deaths in Victoria since 1991.
Figures also show those who died in 2008 ranged from a 15-year-old female to a 57-year-old male, with increasing numbers of female victims. And ambulance officers had attended 614 non-fatal heroin overdoses in the first six months of this year, the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre revealed.
VIFM chief toxicologist Dimitri Gerostamoulos said the increase was mirroring the spike that happened in the late 1990s. “There’s more heroin being produced nowadays than ever before, so there is quite a lot of heroin available,” he said.
Police said the amount of heroin being produced in Afghanistan and South-East Asia was significant. In recent years, brown heroin from Afghanistan had appeared locally as well as Asian white. “Probably the main issue at the moment is Vietnamese organised crime groups,” Sgt Flynn said. “They obviously have the contacts in Vietnam and South-East Asia that can get it here initially. They’re the ones that we seem to be targeting at the moment. We have a problem at the moment with Australian nationals getting paid to fly over to Vietnam, stay for a couple of days, receive some pellets of heroin that they insert internally then come back over.”
He said several heroin couriers had been arrested in Melbourne and around the nation in joint ventures between Victoria Police, Customs and the AFP. “But we don’t believe we’re getting all of them. Obviously there’s some that’s getting through,” he said. The deadly drugs are cut and processed locally, often in industrial areas, factories and homes. In September, heroin worth $5 million was seized from a West Footscray house. Victoria Police drug investigators have compiled a “hit list” of more than 100 names of suspected couriers who will be checked if detected passing through airports. “We don’t always just look at taking them out at the border, but we look for the Melbourne-based offenders to try to gather evidence and put them before the courts as well,” Sgt Flynn said.
Melbourne’s heroin hot spots include the CBD, St Kilda, Richmond, Footscray, Frankston, Collingwood, St Albans, Deer Park, Boronia, Dandenong, Reservoir, Fitzroy and Carlton. During the week the Sunday Herald Sun found used syringes dumped in city alleyways, car parks and near a needle exchange program just metres from a primary school.
The broad availability of heroin is causing its price to fall, while ecstasy and amphetamine stocks are falling, pushing up their street prices. A gram of smack can cost as little as $260, while a gram of ice, or crystal meth, now sells for $750 to $1000. A smaller cap of heroin costs between $40 and $50.
Needle exchange group ANEX said the heroin boom would bring a tide of disease if the right steps were not taken. “We need millions more needles in the needle exchange services to prevent HIV and hepatitis C,” ANEX chief John Ryan said. Overall, about half of injections are made without a clean syringe. More than 40,000 needles are distributed to drug addicts every month as part of a Frankston program – one of 19 needle and syringe programs throughout Victoria.
An analysis of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data has found the number of prescriptions for methadone and other heroin recovery drugs in Australia almost tripled from about 2.4 million in 1992 to almost seven million in 2007. Victoria has recorded the greatest increase in addicts of any state, with almost 12,000 – more than double since 1998 – costing the taxpayer more than $22 million in treatments.
Source: Heraldsun.com.au 23 Nov. 2009

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