The death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another tragic example of the surge in Heroin use throughout the U.S. reminiscent of the 1970’s and early ’80s. A 2012 study by the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found 669,000 people over the age of 12 had used Heroin at some point in the year. About 156,00 of these were first time users, and roughly 467,000 were considered Heroin dependent-more than double the number in 2002.
Heroin is pummeling Central Ohio and leaving addictions, overdoses, and fear in its wake. According to an August 2013 article in the Columbus Dispatch, an influx of Mexican “Black-Tar Heroin” has swept through the area fueled by drug dealers looking to profit from a growing demand for prescription painkiller alternatives.
Black-Tar Heroin- a black sticky substance that looks like coal-is made exclusively in Mexico and stated appearing in Columbus in 1998. But from 2002-2012, the drug or specifically the opioid of choice in Central Ohio was Oxycodone (brand name “OxyContin) with street names of “Oxycotton” and “Hillbilly Heroin,” OxyContin was readily available for low prices on the streets because dealers could obtain the drug in large quantities from doctors in the city and from pain clinics-most notably in Florida.
However, as federal and state law enforcement officials began to crackdown on pain clinics and the prescribing doctors, the supply of OxyContin dropped and its price increased. For example, an OxyContin pill that was once valued at $10-$20 on the street has doubled in value and is now sold for between $40-$80, depending on the milligram. But due to an increased supply, Heroin can now be purchased for as little as $5-$10 for one gram, causing the drug to make an unfortunate comeback.
Mexican cartels have expanded distribution rings in Columbus suburbs making Heroin cheaper and more accessible. Federal Prosecutors in Columbus reported that the City, due to its central location, is a hub for Mexican suppliers with “multi-kilo” shipments arriving daily, some over 1 million dollars.
State and Federal prosecutions have increased dramatically in the last few years as law enforcement officials attempt to crackdown on both dealers and users. Possession of sale of Heroin in any amount is a felony at the state and federal levels. Sales or possession of smaller amounts, under 500 grams, are usually prosecuted at the state level.
But one may be surprised that under Ohio law, the penalties are severe even for possession. For example, possession of Heroin in any amount more than 5 grams but less than 10 grams is a felony of the third degree and carries a presumption of a prison sentence. To put this into perspective, a nickel weighs five grams.
If one possesses more than 10 grams of Heroin, then said person must receive a mandatory sentence of at least 2 years (the equivalent weight of 2 nickels = 2 years). Under Ohio law, the penalties for selling Heroin as one would expect are even more severe. A person who sells more than 10 grams must receive a prison sentence of 2 years and the penalty can be enhanced if the transaction takes place near a school or a juvenile.
Federal charges usually occur when the sale or the amount possessed is larger and/or the person is alleged to have been in a drug conspiracy with others. Under federal law, possession of more than 100 grams of Heroin can result in a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years even for first-time offenders. Individuals who possess over 1 kilogram (approximately the weight of a small bag of rice or small pineapple) can face sentences of 10 years to life with no chance of parole. Of course, the Federal Defendant will be sentenced under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, but many federal statutes carry with them the dreaded and draconian features of “mandatory minimums.” This means that a defendant must serve at least 5 years, or 10 years in some instances, regardless of their lack of record.
Because of the severe nature of Ohio and Federal drug laws for the sale and possession of Heroin, an individual charged or under investigation must hire an experienced lawyer immediately to prevent an unacceptable result. W. Joseph Edwards has practice in the area of criminal defense work for 25 years and has represented numerous individuals in both State and Federal court that were charges with serious drug offenses.
For a free consultation call 614.309.0243.