Special investigation

The reality of heroin in Roseville

Police, doctors, counselors, addicts all see expanding drug trend
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Drug treatment for teens

Full Circle Treatment Center

730 North Sunrise Avenue, #250


Phone: (916) 787-4357


Drug treatment for adults

Community Recovery Resources, Roseville Center

406 Sunrise Avenue, Suite 310A


(916) 782-3737


New Dawn Treatment Center

7011 Sylvan Road

Citrus Heights



Community Recovery Resources, Lincoln Center

1530 Third Street, Suite 212


(916) 782-3737


Community Recovery Resources residential treatment

11417 D Avenue



For those addicted to heroin in Roseville, the high can kill pain, blur self-identity and numb perceptions of the outer world; but as the drug’s influence steadily rises in the city, crime, victimization, self-destruction and tragedies are rising just as fast.

On a January afternoon, seven uniformed police officers made their way down the faded, chalk-white hallway of a rundown Roseville hotel. Knocking on two different doors connected to parolees, the officers were met with resistance before breaking their way in with hand-rams. Four people were quickly taken into custody as officers booked a glob of black tar heroin and several drug-use instruments into evidence.

A 25-year-old woman, who was among those getting arrested, told The Press Tribune she had been hooked on heroin for more than a year and — despite having serious health problems — could not seem to escape the needle.

For the officers, there was nothing unusual about the scene unfolding. Not anymore.        

The department’s narcotics team is run by Sgt. Dave Buelow, a detective who has seen the presence of heroin in Roseville rise dramatically since 2010. 

“During my first five years as a police officer in Roseville, I could have counted on my hand how many times I’d seen heroin during arrests,” Buelow said. “Now, during the last two or three years, our department is dealing with heroin and heroin-related crimes on a weekly basis.” 

Roseville police can generally track the spike in usage to a pharmaceutical pill craze that swept through Placer County’s high schools in the early 2000s and continues to be a major problem. Oxycontin, Methadone and Codeine led young locals into the unforgiving, bio-chemical grip of opiate addiction. When Oxycontin was reformulated, heroin became the go-to alternative for addicts wanting the same type of high.  

“Our biggest problem related to heroin remains pill abuse,” Buelow said. “There are still more people addicted to pharmaceuticals in the Roseville area than heroin itself; however, it does become a transition. When Oxycontin was reformulated two years ago, we saw a lot of addicts from that generation forced to over to heroin.”  

One fallout from the number of residents sliding over to heroin is teenagers coming to clinics like Full Circle in Roseville with powerful personal demons.

Dr. Angela Chanter is the clinical director at Full Circle and has been completely startled by what she describes as the spread and “normalization” of heroin.   

“It’s ridiculous the amount of shift we’ve seen when it comes to young people who thought they would never shoot up with a needle, and now, because pills have left them so addicted to opiates, are crossing over and using straight heroin,” she said. “I think the public has a lot of stereotypes about what a drug ring looks like, but those images don’t hold up against the young people coming into my office for treatment. This pattern is all through our high schools.”

Chanter is currently treating several local teens who are trying to get off the drug. Like Buelow, she’s noted that price, access and availability all make heroin an alluring fallback for opiate addicts fearing withdrawal.

“What they call ‘H’ is available when the pills no longer are,” Chanter said. “It’s become the go-to for kids that can’t get their opiates any longer. It’s also a lot cheaper on the streets, too.”

But teenagers and young adults are far from the only heroin addicts in Roseville. The city’s Community Recovery Resources clinic is treating more adults hooked on the drug than Full Circle is treating teens. Cindy Allstead, a managed care counselor at CCR, is also witnessing heroin’s push to prominence; though for her, the phenomena is best characterized as a resurgence.  

“Heroin has been around in Placer County since before the 1970s,” Allstead remembered. “It’s not that it’s a new thing here, but there absolutely has been a recent increase in the trend. And heroin is in the affluent neighborhoods too, not just the streets where lower-income families live.”

Heroin addicts walking through the doors of CRR sometimes have a lifeless quality to them: Like all high-grade opiates, heroin leaves a heavy impact on the brain’s chemistry, weakening the natural dopamine and endorphins the body produces. The result is a psychological no man’s land where the addict finds it harder and harder to experience human emotion without opium in the central nervous system.

A sudden stop in heroin use will cause an addict to become violently ill. Roseville police officers say it’s not uncommon for newly arrested heroin users to turn deathly pale with uncontrollable sweating, dread connected to the impending withdrawal taking over their thought process.

“It’s the kind of pain that’s so intense there’s almost no way to describe it,” said "Skylar," a 28-year-old recovering heroin addict who’s currently being treated at Roseville’s CRR. “You can’t eat. You lose weight. It feels like nonstop chisels chipping away at your bones.”

Skylar was living in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Rocklin in 2003 when she first started abusing Oxycontin. Due to a sick relative, she had ongoing access to “oxys.” Skylar found she could feed her own cravings with much cheaper heroin while selling the Oxycontin for a good profit.    

“My husband and I did soccer coaching with all of the parents on our street,” Skylar remembered. “No one suspected that we were using. People picture heroin addicts as someone in a dirty house, trying to find a vein. That’s not what my family looked like. There were at least five other really nice houses on my street where people were selling Oxy — no one suspected that, either.”

As the years went on, Skylar continued to shoot heroin while her husband used methamphetamine. Storms of domestic violence in the house ultimately caused Child Protective Services to take all three of Skylar’s children into protective custody, terminating her parental rights. The next few years were a slide into drug arrests, prostitution and being under the control of frightening meth and heroin dealers. Burglaries, fraud, identify theft and heart-stopping violence were all things that passed before her eyes while living in Sacramento and Roseville’s drug culture.

Now clean, Skylar is trying to find “legitimate” work, as well as get counseling for the early childhood trauma she believes first led her into the world of addiction. She’s also trying to rebuild shattered relationships with her family members. None of it has been easy.

“Heroin allowed me to destroy my life,” Skylar said. “It cost me my children, my family and all of my friends. Before I started it, I never could have imagined myself doing all of the things I ended up doing just to maintain my addiction and survive. I put heroin ahead of everything there was — and so I lost everything I had.”