Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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SLIDELL,La. -- Mug shots of 35 people, ranging in age from 17 to 54, were put on display at a press conference Monday.

They come from all corners of St. Tammany Parish and from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Law enforcement says they are heroin users and dealers, and putting them behind bars is the beginning of an effort to cut off increasing infiltration of the drug from the south shore to the Northshore, in hopes of cutting back its deadly consequences.

'Heroin might not be your problem until your son or granddaughter... is sitting in our offices crying because of their loss,'St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain said.

Authorities from Slidell, Mandeville, St. Tammany Parish and the DEA say their new partnership spawned from the dozens of overdose deaths last year, coupled with an alarming amount so far this year.

'It's not just about putting the heroin addict or dealer in jail, it's working with the local hospitals and substance abuse clinics here to make sure somebody on heroin gets help,' said Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith.

Authorities believe the uptick in heroin is because of a common gateway drug, prescription pills, becoming less available and more expensive.

'I've been in the police business over 20 years now,'said DEA Special Agent-In-Charge Keith Brown. 'I have never interviewed a heroin addict that did not start with prescription drugs.'

Unlike prescriptions, they say heroin's inconsistent purities have been a major contributor to so many recent overdoses.

Heroin is considered a gateway to other illegal activity too.

'We see a drastic increase in property crimes in Mandeville that go along with this, car burglaries and things like that. People need to feed this habit,' said Mandeville Police Chief Rick Richard.

Law enforcement says the key to keeping heroin out of your family is awareness.

State lawmakers are also getting in on the crackdown effort. A bill to double penalties for possessing or distributing heroin has made it through the House and now awaits committee consideration in the Senate.

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