Citizens' Police Academy: Narcotics Squad-Part Two

(Cross posted to Working Stiffs)

While heroin is by far the biggest drug problem in Pittsburgh, it isn’t the only one.

Crack cocaine is manufactured “in house” by cooking powder cocaine and baking soda into a solid “rock,” which is then smoked. Crack is generally more potent than the powdered form, since the cocaine needs to be rather pure to create crack, whereas the powder can be cut with other ingredients, diluting its strength.

Addicts use a variety of items for crack pipes. Sgt. Epler passed around some samples, including a piece of a car antenna wrapped in tape to protect the smoker’s fingers.

Crack does not burn well. The smoker must keep a flame on it for an extended period of time. If you see someone lighting up at night and you notice the lighter keeps going and going, it isn’t that the guy can’t get his cigarette lit. It means he’s smoking crack. Another giveaway is burn marks on the fingers (from holding the hot pipe) and around the mouth.

Some standard, every day household items are used in smoking crack. Chore Boy for example. You know…that copper scrubber stuff that you can buy anywhere. Small pieces of it are stuffed into the pipe between the rock of crack cocaine and the smoker’s lips. This way, he won’t suck the blistering hot rock into his lungs. Not a pleasant experience, apparently.

And have you ever seen those small glass vials containing tiny flowers for sale at a convenience store? Those vials are made from tempered glass and are used as crack pipes. After the flower is removed, of course. So if you checking out at your local convenience store and spot a display of stupid little flowers in glass vials, Chore Boy, and Bic Lighters all grouped together, this is why. It’s a crack-smoking kit. That’s the ONLY reason you will see those three items together.

Crack is sometimes packaged, like heroin, in the tips of balloons. But it is also packaged in corners from sandwich bags. Dealers fill the corners, cut them off, and tie them. Two packages can be made from each baggie. Want to take part in a little demonstration? Go get a sandwich bag from your cupboard right now. It’s okay. We’ll wait for you. Got it? Okay, now cut both bottom corners off. Good. Now what does it look like?

A diaper? Yep. This is the by product of packaging crack. If you find these “diapers” lying around in an alley near your home, you have crack dealers at work. Don’t fool yourself into thinking some neighborhood kids were playing baby dolls.

You might also see a crumpled bundle of these plastic baggie-diapers. Call the police.

If you’re wondering about pricing, in Pittsburgh the going rate is $1,000 to $1,200 per ounce.


Not everyone who smokes weed will go on to do crack. But according to Sgt. Epler, everyone he’s arrested for crack or heroin started out by smoking weed.

You’ve probably all seen joints, those little home-rolled cigarettes. The current trend is smoking blunts, or cigars filled with weed. A regular cigar is split and the tobacco dumped out. The paper is then refilled with weed. To save on the mess, cigar skins are available commercially, sold at any convenience store. According to Sgt. Epler, these serve no other purpose except for smoking weed as no one rolls their own cigars. An assortment of pipes specifically for smoking weed is also readily available.

Apparently, cops love angry women. They are great sources of information and are just about one hundred percent right-on-the-money. Sgt. Epler shared the following story:

A woman called the cops to report that her man was in the basement with four Jamaican guys and 120 pounds of weed. She had caught her man with another woman in the car she had rented for him. The cops, while a little cynical about such a tale…four Jamaicans and 120 pounds of weed? Yeah, right...arrived at the house to investigate. They found—you guessed it—four Jamaicans and 120 pounds of weed in the woman’s basement. Further investigation revealed that the Jamaicans were wanted on murder charges. They were stone-cold killers who had slain at least 12 other women who had rented houses and cars for them. This angry woman most likely saved her own life by calling the cops.


Methamphetamine has never caught on here in Pittsburgh, a fact for which Sgt. Epler was extremely grateful. He said that in the past eight years, they have made only one or two arrests for meth. One reason he speculates we haven’t seen the problem here is because one of the major components, anhydrous ammonia, isn’t readily available. Used as fertilizer on the big commercial farms of the West and Midwest, anhydrous ammonia is rarely seen locally. Plus, Pennsylvania has severely cracked down on the over-the-counter sale of pseudoephedrine, a fact which annoys Sgt. Epler every time he gets a cold.


If you are looking for a great research website dealing with Ecstasy, click here. Geared toward kids, this site actually lists which pills are good and which ones are bad.

Oxycontin isn’t seen much locally. The high is similar to heroin. Oxycontin has a reputation of being a heroin starter kit. Folks use it legitimately for pain, become addicted and move on to heroin. Xanax is also popular with the heroin crowd.

Remember the car battery I mentioned last week? Sgt. Epler finally pulled it out to show its purpose. It contained fake compartments for hiding drugs. Lots of innocuous-looking household items containing secret compartments have been used to fool the police: WD-40 cans, canisters of cheese balls and corn chips, spot remover spray. He even showed us a fake book, hollowed out to hide someone’s stash. Informants are invaluable for locating drugs hidden this way.

And that concludes my Citizens’ Police Academy experience. However, I must admit I’m hooked. I can’t wait for the next session to begin so I can drop in and pick up more tidbits of information. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating…if you have the chance to attend a Citizen’s Academy in your area, do it. You will not regret one minute of it.

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