CBS 3 Springfield's two part exclusive report on the heroin epidemic in Western Massachusetts concluded Tuesday night with an intimate look at the front lines of the battle. Holyoke police officers making arrests, discovering heroin and trying to make a dent in a serious problem.
CBS 3 followed them exclusively for two nights. And on our second night, we were confronted head-on.
Lights flashing, sirens blaring, Holyoke Police Officer Victor Heredia speeds through South Holyoke.
A domestic disturbance has been called in and he's one of the first to respond.
We arrive at 556 South Bridge Street. This is known as a drug haven in Holyoke. Heredia searches the premises for the suspect in question but minutes later finds something else.
"heroin and coke," he says as he looks through mailboxes, "They're selling out of here, because there's a chair here, so whoever sits here they can see the door. They grab it so it's not on them."
It's not a shocking a discovery for authorities in the paper city. Like other parts of Western Massachusetts, the drug is a powerful, deadly problem here.
"I grew up right on South Summer street, right down the street," Heredia says.
For Heredia the crisis in Holyoke takes on more than just a professional meaning.
"It's especially sad when you know people, when you have some type of relationship with them, either friends of high school or stuff like that, it is sad when you see them wrapped up and involved in illegal activities like that."
He's one of the many on the ground level here trying to battle an epidemic that sometimes seems like war.
"This is one of the fairly bad drug areas in Holyoke right now."
He takes us to a building at 5 Adams Street that defied the odds.
"Down here we're going to go behind a building that was big and together with Summers and the rest of the CP officers and other officers we actually shut that building down."
One weekend this past March, officers went after the drug operation running out of the building.
"That building was overrun by drug dealers," Heredia said.
They netted an incredible 110 arrests.
"The owner was basically sick of it and he put his foot down and he put in brand new security doors, a brand new security system in and then he hired us to be here and together we shut it down," Heredia said.
The building is now fortified with secure doors, special locks, eight security cameras and even an in-house satellite police office.
"This is a success, we've just got to maintain it," Heredia said.
Heredia tells us the drug battles here begin with gangs. There are two opposing sides: La Familia which runs south Holyoke, and the Latin Kings, who've taken the Churchill area as their territory.
Police say gangs fight to control the neighborhoods where they sell drugs to make their money.
"That's their livelihood, that's how they survive if you can call it that," Heredia said.
We drive by a park on Chestnut street that's taken on a disturbing nickname.
"Needle park...it's a kids playground, it's a kid's water park and everything and you find needles and syringes in here," Heredia said.
"It's a never-ending cycle and it's always, you get to know the faces."
But a part of this battle has nothing to do with arrests.
"We talk to them and say listen, 'you're still young man, go out and get a job, why are you doing this' we try to kind of put stuff into their head," Heredia said.
It's in an effort to save lives. Just hours before our interview, Heredia responded to an overdose. It's never a shock but there are times when it can drain an officers' energy.
"I don't want to say it's a never-ending battle but it gets tough at times."
So where does it all end. For Heredia, it may never end completely. But he turns back to the building at 5 Adams street as an example. It was a place he thought could not be taken back from the world of drugs.
"You just have to tackle it, you just have to hit it head-on and like it did with that building, hopefully it works," he said.
As we mentioned in our reports this week, $20 million will be spent in the state to try and tackle this epidemic through treatment.
The governor tells us his team is still figuring out exact numbers, but Western Massachusetts can expect funding for more detox beds.
Police are hoping that will stem repeat users and help end the crisis.
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