A seven-officer undercover drug unit will deploy in South Boston starting Saturday, focusing on areas with high drug activity, especially during early-morning hours, when addicts are more likely to seek fixes, police said.
"And when Southie is cleaned up,'' Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said, "we will be moving on to other parts of the city.''
The unit will work with other Boston police specialized units, Davis said, to "focus specifically on individuals involved in the illegal drug trade and negatively affecting the quality of life for hard-working, law-abiding residents.''
The unit, consisting of a sergeant and six officers, will work in plain clothes, focusing on buyers and sellers of opiates such as heroin, a drug that has plagued the area. Davis said that because users of opiates typically seek to feed their addiction when they wake up, the drug unit will be in action between 6 and 10 a.m.
"Heroin is one of the drugs of choice of addicts in that area,'' he said. "We see that they are first getting hooked on pharmaceuticals, and then they move off those to opiates.''
The unit will work with the Drug Enforcement Administration to go after suppliers, as well.
"We know they come in from Florida, but some of the drugs are diverted right here in Massachusetts,'' Davis said. "Because it's a physical addiction, they'll do anything for a fix, and the only way for most of them is to engage in criminal activity: street crime and shoplifting and larceny.''
Davis said that violent crimes, such as the slaying of a 67-year-old South Boston woman on Patriot's Day, are often directly related to illegal drug use.
Timothy Kostka, 26, of South Boston, was arraigned on charges of home invasion and first-degree murder in connection with that case. Prosecutors said Kostka bought drugs after robbing and killing Barbara Coyne in her house.
Kostka has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held without bail.
According to the Boston Public Health Commission's "Substance Abuse in Boston'' report, published in 2011, South Boston has the highest death rate from opioids in the city and the second-highest rate of opioid treatment admission. The neighborhood also had the highest rate of heavy alcohol consumption in 2008 among adults and the third-highest rate of alcohol deaths.
"The effort that the Boston Police Department is currently putting forward will have a positive impact on the community at large,'' said John McGahan, president of the Gavin Foundation, a substance abuse treatment facility in South Boston. Already, he said, arrests are up dramatically.
According to Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office, there were 20 drug arraignments in South Boston Municipal Court from May 14 to 18, and dozens in prior weeks. .
McGahan said increased enforcement can be beneficial to those arrested, linking them to court-mandated rehabilitation programs.
State Senator Jack Hart, whose district includes South Boston, said police have been working "like gangbusters'' against the drug problem there.
"This is something the neighborhood will be delighted by, especially in the Andrew Square area with the methadone clinic issue that we're dealing with there, and areas of East and West Broadway,'' Hart said. "These are areas that need full-time attention, especially during the daytime.''
Brian R. Ballou can be reached at email@example.com.