Posted: 4:32 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

DEA: Heroin ‘hot spots’ throughout Charlotte

By Natalie Pasquarella

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Walking through the busy Arboretum shopping center on Providence Road, most people would not believe the Drug Enforcement Agency has identified it as a hot spot for drug dealing.

The head of North Carolina’s branch of the DEA, Bill Baxley, said people are going into heavily trafficked business areas like the Arboretum to buy and sell black tar heroin, a type of heroin from Mexico with a tar --like texture that is growing in popularity among Charlotte’s teens.

Baxley said the locations make sense to the sellers.

“Traffickers aren’t dummies. They want to come to places that they’re not going to stand out,” he said.

The area around the Arboretum isn’t the DEA’s only concern. Officers have also targeted parking lots in the SouthPark area, near South Boulevard and Tyvola, and by Carolina Place Parkway.

Agents said the deals are also happening near the intersection of Monroe and Sharon Amity roads, near Monroe and Wendover roads, and near StoneCrest in Ballantyne.

The buy areas are not a surprise to Diane Cureton, a former heroin addict who is now a substance abuse counselor.

“There’s a certain boldness about it,” she said.

Cureton works with local teens battling drug addiction. They tell her exactly how easy it is to get the drug.

“A teen can be in the mall with a parent and, ‘I’m going in this store, mom.’ Meet you, get what they need to get and go on back and meet up with their parent,” she said.

The easy access to the drug is why agents are stepping up their enforcement with a newly formed task force. They are concerned that, with all the drug activity, an increase in neighborhood crime might not be far behind.

“Deals go bad. We are talking about violent Mexican trafficking organization,” Baxley said. “We can put that focus like a laser beam on those organizations and completely dismantle them.”

The task force if federally funded and included officers from Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said they have not seen an increase in heroin activity at the Arboretum or an increase in crime, but the DEA said its information is not based solely on arrests and crime.

Agents said it is also based on intelligence and tips they receive.

Officials at the Arboretum said Thursday afternoon they had not heard about the DEA’s assessment. The two sides are now communicating.

If you have a tip for the Drug Enforcement Agency, you can call 704-770-2050.

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