SANTA CRUZ — The city’s tourist industry has a dark underbelly: black-tar heroin.
People come from miles away to buy $10 hits of the highly addictive opiate in Santa Cruz, and especially the city-owned open space Pogonip between UC Santa Cruz and Highway 9.
Local residents get hooked and are among the users who hike into the woods — sometimes miles — to buy the drug they smoke or inject into their veins.
While heroin’s popularity has waned in much of the rest of the state, the drug has been a tough habit to kick in Santa Cruz. Heroin represents about 20 percent of the narcotics cases handled by the county’s narcotics task force, and more heroin addicts seek treatment in the county than any other type of drug user.
Cecelia Krebs, who oversees a drug treatment program for addicts in Santa Cruz, says she recently went to a conference where a state map was displayed: blue marked methamphetamine use and red was heroin. The whole map was blue but there was a red dot over Santa Cruz, she says.
“I don’t know why Santa Cruz. I can’t get a good answer,” Krebs says.
Some blame the heroin problem on a lax attitude toward drugs in Santa Cruz, or the area’s identity as a free-spirited piece of paradise where anything goes. Others say it’s simply business: supply and demand.
The heroin problem has gotten so bad that, earlier this month, Santa Cruz police teamed with the Drug Enforcement Administration to target drug dealing and the gangs that sell heroin in the area. Police say gangs, especially a violent Salvadoran gang blamed for two of the city’s four homicides this year, use proceeds from heroin sales to buy guns and otherwise fund their criminal activity.
“There is a clear and direct link between local drug sales and gang-related violence,” Santa Cruz Police Chief.