Last updated: July 15. 2014 12:16AM - 474 Views

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A wave of crack cocaine in the mid-2000s helped drive violent crime rates in Huntington to levels not seen before or since.

Through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, the city’s violent crime rate hovered a little over 500 crimes per 100,000 people. But by 2007, that rate had risen to 750, as drug dealers from Detroit and Columbus set up shop in Huntington and brought a strong current of street violence with them.

Crack is a crystal form of cocaine, which is distributed in solid blocks or rocks rather than as a powder. It is typically heated and smoked, producing a short-lived, intense high followed by a rapid decline in mood that often turns to anxiety, hostility, sleeplessness and paranoia.

Confrontations over deals and turf are common in all types of drug trafficking, but the edgy characteristics of crack can make users and dealers more prone to violence.

It took several years of increased police staffing, tougher enforcement and innovative crime fighting programs to bring the violent crime rate back down in Huntington.

Also, cocaine and crack use began to decline nationally. The number of people starting with cocaine dropped from more than 1 million a year in the mid-2000s to about 600,000 in 2012, and the crack decline was even sharper, according to surveys.

Of course, the drug problem did not go away, with cocaine giving way to rampant abuse of prescription painkillers and in more recent years heroin. During 2013, the Huntington Police Department’s Special Investigative Bureau seized 17,300 doses of prescription drugs and 5,500 grams of heroin, compared with 694 grams of powder cocaine and 428 grams of crack cocaine.

But this week city officials reported they are seeing a resurgence of crack cocaine. Just six months into 2014, HPD already has confiscated more crack than in all of last year. On their raids, officers also are finding firearms more regularly.

So far, officers have only theories about what might be contributing to the influx of crack.

But it will be critical to dig into what might be causing the uptick. Is there some reason pill or heroin users are turning to crack or does the city have a new group of drug users? Do some of the dealers have a history with crack from the mid-2000s and why are they back on the scene?

Fortunately, Huntington is better prepared to deal with the problem today with better police staffing and more sophisticated enforcement. But the trend is another reminder that where there is a demand for drugs the supply will follow, and our community needs to continue to focus on the broader goals of treating those with addictions and providing the education and opportunities that help prevent drug use from the start.

— Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

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