Bayfield isn't the quiet little town it was 20 or 30 years ago. Hard drugs and increased crime are part of today's reality, Bayfield Marshal Joe McIntyre told members of the Pine River Centennial Rotary Club on Jan. 27.
He was born and raised in Colorado Springs and has been in law enforcement for 20 years, mostly on the Front Range. He said he always wanted to be in a place that really felt like home. He started in Bayfield just over four years ago and feels like this is the place.
But he said, "In the four years I've been here, I've seen a lot of changes. Within the last six months, we've had an influx of heroin. We had our first overdose in Bayfield since I've been here." That was on Oct. 17, 2015. Without a neighbor responding to the victim's girlfriend's midnight call for help and starting CPR, the victim could have died or at least suffered brain damage.
The marshal's office helped intercept a shipment of 73 grams of meth and 3 grams of heroin last October in Bayfield that tied in with a drug bust in January, McIntyre said. In the January bust in Durango, the Southwest Drug Task Force arrested three people from Casa Grande, Ariz. His office is part of that task force.
"Bayfield isn't the small quiet town that people think it is," he said. "I want to talk about awareness. Addiction is a disease. There are programs to help. Being a heroin or meth addict, you do a lot of things that hurt your family or community to try to obtain the drug."
He cited a recent report from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program that Colorado now ranks number 1 among the states for marijuana use in all age categories that they look at: 12-17, 18-25, and 26 and older.
"Legalization (of marijuana in Colorado) is having an effect," he continued. Recreational use is legal only for age 21 and older, but he said he's seen marijuana use increase at Bayfield High School, along with prescription painkiller abuse. Those drugs can be stolen from a family member who has the drug legally.
"Marijuana is considered a gateway to harder stuff. When I have to pick up a dirty needle from a parking lot in Bayfield, it saddens me," McIntyre said. Big city problems are here, and he doesn't expect that to change.
Because of marijuana legalization in Colorado, Mexican drug cartels are moving in to grow marijuana in the state. That has freed up fields in Mexico to grow poppies for heroin, instead of marijuana, he said.
The local law enforcement priority is the mid and upper level people in the supply chain, he said. A local drug bust in 2014 was one of several national cases that helped lead to the recent capture of Mexican cartel leader Chapo Guzman, he said. "The organization here was tied to his cartel."
Meth production is mostly in Mexico now. It's not hard to get meth or heroin across the border into the U.S. on a maze of back roads and trails, McIntyre said.
Heroin has become cheaper and easier to get than addictive prescription opioid drugs, causing people to switch, he said.
"The problem isn't necessarily the addictive quality (of heroin)," he explained. "You don't know what you're getting, how toxic it will be, especially someone trying it for the first time. The first time could be an overdose."
A drug called Narcan is used to resuscitate overdose victims, including the Bayfield victim in October. But it was noted that heroin has a longer half life than the Narcan, so a second respiratory arrest is possible without ongoing medical care.
McIntyre said, "The users know the fire department has Narcan, so they feel more comfortable continuing to use, or doing a higher dose. It's not a sure lifesaver. You still have to get (the overdose victim) to the hospital."
Asked about homeless people in Bayfield, McIntyre said there have been some people begging on a street corner, but they aren't homeless. They have a place to stay, he said. "Our last true homeless person was two years ago."
He said Bayfield is "just like anybody else. We have our share of domestic violence, theft, property damage. The highway brings in criminal elements. People still think this is the Bayfield of 20 or 30 years ago and you don't have to lock your house and your car." Not so, he said. Unlocked doors lead to crimes of opportunity.
He finished with a request: "If you get a chance, please say 'Thank you' to a police deputy."