CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It is Charlotte's invisible drug epidemic, and it's killing people in record numbers.
The drug is heroin, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said heroin overdoses are reaching an all-time high as drug cartels from Mexico move their product silently and swiftly in neighborhoods and shopping centers practically unnoticed.
"We're absolutely seeing more of it now than we ever have," said an undercover CMPD officer who has been working the heroin problem for several years.
Eyewitness News was along as another undercover officer met a dealer in a south Charlotte parking lot and bought almost a gram of heroin -- only 15 minutes after placing the call.
"So we actually completed a heroin deal in about 15 minutes and it took place and you never saw it," the officer said.
It's one measure of the sophistication of the heroin dealers and the saturation of the Charlotte market, a target, police said, because there is plenty of money here.
Another measure is the staggering amount of heroin they have found on the streets here.
"Here we have 3.6 kilograms of black tar heroin," the vice officer said as he stands next to a pile of baseball-size bags full of what looks like molasses or tar, worth almost a million dollars, that was headed for Charlotte's streets.
The most telling measure of the problem here may be the number of overdoses. There have been 60 so far this year, a record and more than double the number just three years ago.
"I'm the one that gets to notify the parents that their son or daughter has died and that strikes home very quickly," said Lt. Nate King, who decided to launch a task force on the city's south side to address the problem that has also brought an increase in street crime.
"Absolutely. It's not a victimless crime because when that individual runs out of a source of income, he's the guy that's breaking into your houses. He's the guy that's breaking into your cars," the vice officer said.
King is taking his task force to other parts of the city, briefing school nurses and officers in other divisions so they know what to look for on the street and in schools.
As long as the next fix is only 15 minutes away, police know they're fighting an uphill battle.
"You've got kids walking around. Absolutely too easy," the undercover officer said as he surveyed the parking lot where the latest deal had just gone down, once again, almost unnoticed.
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