Chasing Dark is an ongoing series looking at heroin and other types of drug abuse in Keizer.

Of the Keizertimes

Over the course of nine years, Chris Nelson learned a lot about drugs in the area.

Nelson was a member of the Keizer Police Department’s Community Response Unit for two years, mainly focused on drugs, before joining a Drug Enforcement Agency task force for seven years. Two years ago, police chief John Teague brought Nelson back from the DEA. Nelson is now a detective working regular cases with the KPD. Many of those cases, however, are directly linked to substance abuse.

Even with his current duties, Nelson keeps close tabs on the local drug scene and has seen the impact of drugs like heroin.

One of the main things Nelson learned is the stereotype of drug users being terrible people simply isn’t true.

“Many individuals who are addicted aren’t bad people, they just have an addiction to an illicit drug,” Nelson said. “The young addicts were once thriving in school and the older ones were once contributing to society – the addiction has temporarily poisoned their ability to thrive.”

As mentioned last week in the Keizertimes, drug addicts see others die of the habit but don’t feel it will happen to them – even after it does happen to people like former Keizer resident Brandon Crist, who was found dead of a heroin overdose in late September at the age of 22.

“Heroin is a very addictive and highly-potent opiate,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen an uptick in heroin use, which is directly correlated to the rise in overdose deaths. It’s extremely disturbing when we see – all too often – the appetite our younger generation has for this poison.”

During his time on the DEA task force, Nelson changed his view somewhat in terms of what a solution could be.

“When I was first in law enforcement, I thought the solution was enforcement,” Nelson said. “Over the years on the task force, I quickly realized we’re taking out one (drug) trafficking organization and another new one takes its place. I learned quickly that if you have the demand for drugs, it will find its way into our community.

“If we want to reduce crime, we need to reduce the demand for illicit drugs,” he added. “Enforcement and incarceration alone will not solve the problem. Continuing drug court programs, expanding treatment facilities and education by everyone in society certainly seems like the logical approach.”

Nelson and fellow task force members took down a number of drug organizations over the years. Recently Nelson and Garrett Roelof from the Salem Police Department were honored for their work in a number of arrests being made in relation to the April 2012 death of Keizer’s Laurin Putnam.

But Nelson found over the years taking out an organization was akin to simply taking out the top part of a weed in the yard: if you don’t get rid of the roots, the weed will simply grow back.

Applied to law enforcement, Nelson believes the answers lies in education and treatment.

“We need to consider the idea of expanding and making available detoxification and treatment centers,” Nelson said. “Most importantly society must educate our youth about the dangers of drug abuse and closely guide them down a clean and sober roadway.”

Even with that, Nelson knows treatment and detox programs aren’t going to be 100 percent successful. For example, Nelson talked with Crist often following a July 2013 arrest. After the arrest, Crist entered a detox center and then transitioned to a long-term rehab center and called Nelson about once a month.

“He showed interest when he got out of the treatment center about talking to kids about the dangers of drug use, particularly heroin, and the devastation it hails on individuals and families,” Nelson said.

Nelson felt confident Crist had turned his life around and considers the interactions successful – a combination of enforcement, education and treatment.

“Brandon fought hard against the dark and evil addiction to heroin. He gave himself a glimpse of freedom and you could hear energy and excitement in his voice when he was drug-free. Unfortunately, he relapsed after treatment and the addiction to heroin ended his life,” Nelson said of the addiction.

Despite that, Nelson feels taking a few minutes after a drug arrest to talk about recovery options is the right call.

“Every (interaction) with someone suffering from addiction can be a success,” he said. “It’s an opportunity in law enforcement to remind individuals who are suffering from addiction that there is hope. Taking the time to educate and encourage treatment options is time well-spent.”

Nelson noted the need for drugs like heroin often leads to a destructive cycle.

“Many of the suspects we interact with in law enforcement have a drug dependency, which is a gateway to property related-crimes, low-level drug dealing and sex trafficking,” he said. “The addiction leads ordinarily good citizens into a lifestyle of crime to support their expensive habit.”