Charlotte's changing face of heroin

Charlotte's changing face of heroin

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by STUART WATSON / NewsChannel 36

Bio | Email | Follow: @stuartwcnc

STUART WATSON / NewsChannel 36

Posted on February 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 25 at 5:17 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Danielle Holmes was vibrant, 17 years old. She lived in a $500,000 home in Harrisburg.

Now she's the subject of the A&E show "The First 48."

"She's hooked on heroin. And it's sad," says one Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer in the show. "For her to be 17 years old and the first arrest she's had is murder. Sad."

Holmes and her boyfriend Jonathan Fitzgerald robbed a Salvadoran man -- Oscar Alvarado -- at knifepoint outside a Central Avenue apartment in August. Video from "The First 48" shows Holmes being interrogated by police.

"I got scared so I had pulled the knife out and, um, the guy, I guess I accidentally cut him," she says.

"You say you think you're the one who cut him on the neck?" says the officer.

"Yes sir," she sobs.

From the start police suspected a heroin deal.

"This is that whole white guys, Hispanic guys heroin thing," an officer at the scene says of the crime.

Hispanic dealers. White users. It's a trend that's becoming more common in Charlotte. One recent study shows heroin abuse has tripled in Charlotte over the last three years, and shows no signs of slowing down.

The mug shots say where it's happening. The faces of those arrested for heroin possession come from Matthews, Cornelius, Kings Mountain, Monroe and Charlotte.

"[There's been] a big shift in the demographic," says Ben Roberts, a drug treatment counselor at Mercy Horizons for 13 years. "The patients are younger and they mostly come from more affluent families like in the Ballantyne area or Matthews."

That's because Mexican black tar heroin is cheaper, more potent and more widely available in Charlotte than it has ever been. The dealers, Roberts says, made it much easier to get.

Tied in bits of toy balloons smaller than a penny, the consistency of a tootsie roll, black tar heroin costs about $10 a hit. The result? The largest age group of heroin users in Mecklenburg County are not yet old enough to legally buy a beer.

So where are they coming from?

"They're coming from private schools," says UNC Charlotte professor Paul Friday. "They're coming from affluent families. They're coming from children of lawyers and doctors."

Friday has monitored Mecklenburg jail inmates for drug use for a decade. He found eight out of 10 opiate users were white.

"Opiate use is a white Caucasian drug," he says. "In fact the Mexicans are not distributing the drugs to African-American populations."

Friday says dealers think African-American heroin users are more likely to rob them.

But discrimination isn't foolproof. After all, Danielle Holmes and her boyfriend are white. And Oscar Alvarado is dead.

"I've never done anything like this before," says a sobbing Holmes in an interrogation from "The First 48." "You can look at my record. It's completely clean."

Far from just another murder suspect, Danielle Holmes -- young, suburban, white -- is a portrait of Charlotte's changing face of heroin.

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