By Steven Hoffman
In the final months of her life, Kacie Rumford would make frequent trips to Oxford Borough to meet the dealer who sold her heroin.
Less than six weeks after Rumford overdosed in her Kennett Square home, a multi-agency investigation that took place over the course of a year resulted in the arrest of ten suspected drug dealers in the area. Seven of the men lived in small towns throughout southern Chester County. Two others resided in Wilmington. The tenth suspect, Joseph McIntosh, is a resident of Philadelphia. He is the one that police believe sold Kacie her drugs.
The investigation reveals how drugs like heroin find their way to suburban communities that had previously been spared. Undercover officers were able to purchase multiple bags of heroin from suspects, sometimes buying more than 100 at a time. Heroin can be purchased in individual doses for as little as $7 or they can be purchased in “bundles” of ten bags or “racks” of 10 bundles.
Experienced law enforcement officials like Oxford Police Chief John Slauch have seen the supply of heroin rise and fall over the years. Fifteen years ago, Slauch said, it wasn't uncommon to see heroin turning up during drug arrests. But then its availability decreased as more cocaine and crack found their way to small towns like Oxford.
“It took a hiatus,” Slauch said, “but now heroin is back with a vengeance. What has alarmed me over the last 12 to 15 months is the reemergence of heroin in such large quantities.”
Philadelphia has the cheapest, purest heroin of anywhere in the country, which only makes the job more challenging for law enforcement officials.
Heroin is becoming more pervasive in quiet suburban communities as dealers sell their product to youngsters, including those students who do not fit the typical profile of a drug user.
Slauch said police in the area are finding an increasing number of high school students with drugs in their possession during routine traffic stops.
“And it’s kids that you might not expect to be involved in drugs,” Slauch said. “It does not discriminate.”
“It’s prevalent, like it is in all communities,” explained Oxford Mayor Geoff Henry. “Young people are using. We know that people are dealing. We need the public to help. If you see it, tell somebody about it.”
There was a time when the heroin that reached the southern part of Chester County came from Philadelphia, but now police agree that most of the product that ends up on the streets of Oxford comes from Wilmington, Del. It is becoming a more common practice for some drug users to buy more narcotics than what they will use so that they can sell the surplus to others. They in effect become dealers as well.
“It’s getting closer and closer,” Oxford police officer Chris Coverly explained. “And those figures about heroin costing $7 to $10 for a packet are accurate. The average user will say that they are spending $100 to $200 each day. Many of them are well-financed people.”
Addiction often leads drug users to commit other crimes, such as credit card fraud or stealing, in an effort to support the habit.
According to Coverly, who is also a member of the Chester County Drug Task Force, heroin now accounts for about 8 percent of all drug crimes in Oxford Borough, a significant increase over what it was five years ago. Two-thirds of all drug crimes—66 percent—involve marijuana. Cocaine accounts for 16 percent of those crimes, and prescription drugs are responsible for about 8 percent.
Criminal activity directly or indirectly related to the drug trade can place a heavy burden on the State Police and small municipal police departments.
Oxford police officer Ryan Dougherty said that the police department usually only has two officers on duty at one time.
“We can’t be everywhere,” Dougherty said. “If people turn their heads, we might not know about it.”
“If they see something, they have to say something,” agreed Coverly.
One of the main goals of the Oxford Town Watch is to encourage citizens to become involved by watching out for themselves and for their neighbors.
Oxford resident Pete Vanderhoef talked about how the Town Watch has been successful in getting people to report suspicious activities.
“I don’t tolerate drug-dealing in our neighborhood,” said Vanderhoef. “We don’t want this stuff in our neighborhoods.”
Oxford Borough Council member Butch Saranetz, who has long been active with the Oxford Town Watch, said that he was saddened to hear that Kacie Rumford frequently purchased drugs in the borough because the town has made progress with its zero-tolerance policy with regard to drugs.
“That actually hurt,” Saranetz said, “because we’ve been working diligently on limiting drug use in town.”
Slauch said that the presence of heroin on the streets of Oxford is always very concerning. He noted that he recently received notification from the Chester County District Attorney’s office that there is evidence that a supply of heroin laced with Fentanyl, which boosts the potency and makes it more likely that a user could overdose, has found its way into the area.
This makes a potentially deadly drug even more dangerous.
“The thing about heroin,” said Slauch, “is that you can use it for years. But then you use it one time and it’s fatal.”