Pubdate: Sun, 18 May 2014
Source: Athens News, The (OH)
Copyright: 2014, Athens News
Author: David Dewitt


This is the fourth article in a series that's focusing on heroin and
related drugs' growth, prevention, treatment, distribution, law
enforcement and policy in Athens County and southeast Ohio.

For law enforcement, the battle against heroin is a battle against

Even illicit drugs follow the economic law of supply and demand. So
while law enforcement in Athens County supports efforts to combat
addiction and decrease the heroin customer base, the main task at hand
is to cut off supply by going after heroin dealers.

In that effort, the Athens County Sheriff's Office, the Athens Police
Department, the Ohio University Police Department and the Athens
County Prosecutor's office recently have been emphasizing increased
cooperation in hitting area heroin dealers where it hurts together.

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith, named interim replacement while
elected sheriff Pat Kelly awaits trial on a multi-count indictment,
said Saturday that heroin use has grown in the area as the drug has
become cheaper and more readily available.

He said that with the APD and OUPD's cooperation with the Sheriff's
Office, the fight against drug dealers is growing more

"It's increased our resources. We have more manpower, and we can do
bigger, stronger investigations because we can share resources," he
said, citing the recent arrests and indictments of eight Athens County
residents alleged to be involved in a prescription painkiller drug

The use of strong prescription painkillers and heroin are closely
linked, due to many addicts moving from one to the other.

Smith reiterated that the main intention of law enforcement is to cut
off supply as much as possible.

"We're looking for larger-scale investigations that will turn into
catching larger-scale drug dealers," he said. "We want to take the
supply away."

Local law enforcement receives a variety of resources from the state
level, Smith said, but he always sees room for improvement.

"They can help us out with equipment through state and federal grants
for things such as wiring informants, cameras and switching vehicles
out," he said.

While Athens County has its own problems, the heroin epidemic spans
the region and the state as well, Smith acknowledged. He said he's in
communication with regional law enforcement agencies, and this helps
trace drug trafficking throughout the area.

Asked about the role of U.S. Rt. 33 in the transportation of heroin,
Smith said it represents a main corridor, though law enforcement
realizes that recognizing a special police focus on that route, drug
traffickers will find alternate routes.

"We're going to continually monitor all roads, and watch all avenues
they may try to use to get into Athens County," Smith said.

Statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration show that nearly
85 percent of property crimes and violent crimes can be traced back to
drug use and the illegal drug trade, Smith said, so law enforcement is
focused on working those cases just as hard.

This is where the city of Athens sees some of its biggest consequences
from the growth in heroin addiction and trafficking.

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said in an interview earlier this month
that with college students making up a majority of Athens residents,
usage is focused on party drugs, but the problems of heroin and
painkiller addiction are nevertheless harmful to the community.

"Ultimately, it's not that addiction creates problems for law
enforcement; it creates problems for the community," Pyle said. "My
guess is that the majority of property crime is related to addiction.
Heroin and prescription pills are the most addictive, so they're the
most prevalent in problem-causing."

He said during a recent prescription drug take-back day, where old
pills are turned over to the police for proper disposal, his
department received 26 pounds worth.

Pyle said that ultimately, drug addiction regionally comes down to the
economy and a lack of hope.

"People use to mask depression. They don't have hope in their lives
because they're poor," he said. "Or they're dealing drugs so that
they're not poor. The bottom line is, the war on drugs from a
law-enforcement perspective takes all the press, but there's not as
much focus on treatment, which is really how we're going to combat

Pyle said he supports a war on society's failure to recognize
treatment as the single best option for resolving the drug problem.

"You look at mental illness budgets from state to state, and they're
almost always the first thing that gets cut in tight times," he said.
"We need to be focusing our efforts on the mid-to high-level dealers,
not the users=C2=85 Treatment should be funded just as much as law

This is the only way to address the demand side of things while law
enforcement focuses on the supply side, Pyle said.

"Casual users are not supply side," he said.

Meanwhile, when focusing on mid-to high-level dealers, drug
investigations have to be clandestine in order to not be compromised
by publicity about arrests. When supply is cut, drug prices go up,
which can impact demand because users can't afford it, Pyle said.

"But there can be backlash to it, too," he said, with property crime
resulting from addicts who can't afford their habit. "That's where
that treatment needs to come in. It needs to be a one-two punch. They
need to be on equal playing fields. The supply side should be handled
by law enforcement. The demand side should be handled by behavioral
health specialists. And then monies ought to be equal, but that's
never the case."

AT THE OU POLICE DEPARTMENT, Chief Andrew Powers said Friday that
prescription painkillers are a bigger problem than heroin, and his
goal in working with other area law enforcement is to keep heroin off
of campus.

"We don't want it to become a problem. We don't want it to find its
way on to campus," he said. "We want to keep it off campus."

He said while there have been some cases of heroin use at OU, it's not
anywhere close to widespread or even common.

"If you want to look at felony drug offenses, prescription pills are
more common, certainly than heroin," he said.

Coordination between his office and the Athens Police Department has
been occurring for years, Powers said, and coordination with the
Sheriff's Office further allows law enforcement to follow drug
problems up and down the chain.

"Hopefully, by working together we're treating this problem in a
holistic manner," he said. "My main focus is trying to keep this off
campus and from becoming the problem that it is in other areas."
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