WSCOTV.com – Charlotte, NC
By: Blake Hanson
As law enforcement agencies make landmark heroin arrests in the greater Charlotte area, officials are converging on the city to talk about the issue.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of North Carolina, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department are among the groups hosting a one-day conference Tuesday on the heroin and opiate crisis.
The Charlotte area saw an 80-year increase in heroin overdose deaths in 2016 over the previous year, according to the DEA.
Agencies have made major busts in recent weeks.
Gaston County law enforcement rounded up 18 people Monday morning suspected of trafficking and selling heroin.
In early February, the Rowan County Sheriff's Office announced that it had made its largest-ever heroin bust. That case has ties to the Mexican drug cartel.
Federal prosecutors also recently reached a plea agreement with Maggie Sanders, a suspected trafficker, with alleged ties to a Mexican drug trafficking organization.
Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, sat down with Channel 9 on Monday to talk about the rise in heroin and opiate abuse.
"Because marijuana is legal in so many places in the United States, (Mexican drug organizations) have found it's not as lucrative to grow marijuana and smuggle it to the United States," Rose said. "Those cannabis farmers have now turned to farming poppies."
Rose said the organizations use their existing structures to distribute heroin.
"They are just smuggling in a different product," Rose said.
Rose told Channel 9 that it’s important that her office target sources of supply from Mexico. But she said it must also tackle the problem through means other than prosecution.
"We can't prosecute our way of this problem, so we have to look to the community, we have to look to other areas to help us combat this," Rose said.
The conference will start at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Calvary Church in south Charlotte.