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Law enforcement along Wasatch Front says heroin is behind spike in violent crime

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Posted at 9:16 PM, Dec 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-10 23:16:49-05

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah -- There has been a spike in violent crime along the Wasatch Front, and law enforcement says there is one major factor driving criminals to get quick money: Heroin.

Police are emphasizing this is a community problem.

"I guarantee you the people watching this report right now, 70 percent of them have a friend or family member who are directly affected by the issues we're talking about," said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who was part of a large press conference focused on violent crimes and their link to heroin Thursday.

Winder knows firsthand the pain a heroin addict can bring to a family.

"My own relative, high on heroin and committing a series of robberies in the Salt Lake valley, eventually found slumped over, literally dying, as heroin coursed through his veins in Pioneer Park," Winder said. "He now sits in my jail."

Winder points to heroin as one of the major factors driving criminals to get quick money by resorting to violent crimes to get their fix.

"Utah is in the early stages of a heroin epidemic," said U.S. Attorney John W. Huber.

In 2012, Salt Lake City seized 37 pounds of heroin. In 2014, that number jumped to 250 pounds. Police say the Mexican drug cartel now links straight to Salt Lake City.

"They are making a killing off the addictions of our people," Huber said.

Law enforcement says they can't arrest their way out of this. That's why they're calling the community, medical professionals and lawmakers to take a stand.

"If we are smart enough to recognize the problem, then are we being so dumb in coming up with the solution we already know is best for us," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said.

They agree treatment is key, because, as addiction levels rise, so does the violence.

"Our policy makers have to step up, OK, we have to recognize had we had Medicaid expansion, 65 to 85 percent of those at the county jail would be having dollars they currently are not having access to," Gill said.

Law enforcement says now it's time to take a stand.

"The thought that we'll do away with drug addiction is naive," Winder said. "The question is: 'What are we going to do with individuals that have substance abuse problems?'"