Heroin seized from the streets of Oakland County.
PONTIAC, MI -- If you don't think there's a heroin epidemic, a 26-year Oakland County Sheriff's Department narcotics detective says you better dig a bigger and bury your head even deeper.
"If you think for one second this isn't a real deal," said the undercover officer whose identity was withheld, "it's knocking on your door.
"I'm telling you, get into your kids' business."
The Oakland County Sheriff's Department held a town hall meeting Wednesday to address the dilemma that's led to an increase in overdose deaths, although officials didn't have the death totals immediately available Wednesday.
According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, the state recorded 271 heroin-related overdose deaths between 1999 and 2002, a number that jumped nearly 300 percent to 728 between 2010 and 2012.
"West Bloomfield is a great community. I think they've had four overdoses in the last week," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told the 150-plus in attendance. "We've responded to, I think, eight."
Bouchard says it's "not a back-alley problem" but "good kids and good families" and needs to be addressed through the joint effort of families, community groups, legislators and law enforcers.
Heroin-related arrests within Oakland County are spiking.
"Year to date, heroin cases are up 300 percent over last year, and last year it was up dramatically over the year before," said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. "So you can see the trend line It’s not good."
He did not have the arrest figures immediately available.
Bouchard spoke about a four-prong approach: Education, community involvement, treatment and law enforcement.
Though the sheriff said "we can't arrest our way" out of the problem, he doesn't support legalization.
"If you legalize drugs, you have more access; it doesn't mean you have less addiction," he said. "We run into people that are usually peddling this death and they are willing to kill other people to continue peddling this death because they make a lot of money on it."
Once addicted, users will do almost anything to get a fix and keep withdrawal symptoms at bay. That, Bouchard, usually leads to theft and robbery as addicts become more desperate.
Another concern is the potency and quantity flooding the streets. Bouchard said 15-20 years ago heroin was just 3-10 percent pure; nowadays, with the inventory swelling with heroin shipped over through Canada and Mexico into southeastern Michigan from Afghanistan, Bouchard said it's increasingly more potent, up to 90 percent.
"You can get addicted or die on your first dance," he said.
In accordance with the laws of economics, the increasing supply is yielding lower prices, often making heroin cheaper than highly addictive pain pills, opioids like OxyContin that mimic heroin.
The undercover narcotics officer said OxtContin can sell for $1 per milligram, $80 for a single pill, 90 of which come in a 30-day prescription. Meanwhile, a "bindle" or small dose of heroin sells for $10 on the street, he said.
Pain pills are often -- but not always -- the "gateway" drug to heroin, the sheriff said.
"They get going with those pills and then the pills run out," Bouchard said. "Then they go to the street."
Check back with MLive Thursday for more on Wednesday night's meeting, including information about Naxalone, brand name Narcan, a drug that acts as an anecdote to overdoses and may soon be in the Oakland County emergency response arsenal; and Bouchard's answers to an array of questions from the public.