TROY — The opioid epidemic has brought an onslaught of changes to many aspects of community life, but it has also fundamentally changed many of the ways law enforcement operates.
In addition to increased training for sheriff’s deputies, procedural changes and new expenses, the sheriff’s department has had to change how it approaches enforcement, Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said.
In the past, when the use of other substances was more prevalent, dealers would set up shops in Miami County, making it easier for the department could target the dealers.
With heroin, the dealers don’t have to go anywhere; buyers go to them. People are driving into neighboring Montgomery County to score — leading to higher numbers of wrecks along Interstate 75 — and this has made it difficult to stem the “sheer volume of heroin coming across our southern border,” Duchak said.
“So that was a big change for us. You see the problems impacting our community, but it’s originating in a different county,” he said.
According to Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Rob Streck, Dayton is the source of most heroin and other substances in the region and a major hub for two main drug cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana Cartel, Streck said. With access to Interstates 70 and 75, Dayton is a “source city” ideal for distribution.
“Source city means that’s where you come to get your drugs for cheap. So if you’re from Troy, if you’re from Piqua, from Springfield or Richmond, Indiana, places like that, you’re paying about $20 or $25 dollars for a cap of heroin,” he said at a recent town hall in Tipp City. “If you’re not from our area, you pay $65 a cap.”
“Caps” or capsules of heroin are a Dayton invention, Streck added. Instead of wrapping heroin in foil or plastic, someone in the Dayton area started filling empty gel caps that are available in bulk at health-food stores.
The Miami County Sheriff’s Office does work with their Montgomery County counterparts to go after dealers, using information obtained from people arrested using or possessing opioids in Miami County, Duchak added.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any dealers in Miami County, he pointed out. In 2016, the department made the biggest bust in county history, arresting several family members and seizing more than $1 million worth of heroin and methamphetamine.
The eight suspects involved were alleged to have ties to a Mexican cartel and are believed to have been involved in the trafficking of at least 36 kilos — or nearly 80 pounds — of heroin, meth and cocaine distributed in the Miami Valley in recent years.
That case started with a tip from a citizen, Duchak said.
“We’re only as good as the information that comes to us,” he said.
He stressed the importance of community involvement in combating the opioid epidemic. Anonymous tips can be submitted online at www.miamicountysheriff.org/contact-us-1/tips, he added.
The root of the problem
The epidemic has its roots in the crackdown on pill mills, where people could easily obtain prescription drugs, Duchak said.
“So then as Ohio started passing legislation clamping down on that, those physicians started retreating from handing out those prescriptions. If (people) were addicted, they had nowhere else to go. So you were seeing a lot of those folks migrating to heroin because it was so cheap,” Duchak said.
The ease of access combined with the over-prescription of opioid pain medication were a “perfect storm,” spreading opioid abuse to new demographics, Duchak said.
“That’s one of the conundrums that’s made this problem even bigger,” he said.
According to Bruce Langos, executive director of the Criminal Intelligence Center, about 65 opioid pain medications are prescribed per individual in the state of Ohio. The United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 percent of the world’s opiates.
Heroin is a natural substance and is three to five times more potent than morphine. Lab-produced fentanyl — a legal medication when prescribed — is 100 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil, a large animal sedative, is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.
More changes for local law enforcement
Just a few years ago, new deputies were more likely to gain experience finding marijuana on traffic stops, Duchak recalled. These days, it’s all heroin, which used to be unheard of, he said.
“There’s been a lot of changes for law enforcement,” Duchak said.
Deputies used to perform field tests on substances, but now with the rise of deadlier substances like fentanyl and carfentanil that can cause overdoses on contact, “we don’t do that anymore,” Duchak said.
Miami County deputies now wear masks and use thicker gloves to avoid coming into contact with substances. The whole department, including the sheriff, is now fully trained in the use of Narcan and deputies carry it every, he added.
The department also had to buy a body scanner for the jail last year to crack down on overdoses. The county commissioners approved the purchase of the Soter RS full-body scanning system for $118,750 last August. When the purchase was approved, Commissioner Jack Evans said, “There’s no question about it, it’s badly needed.”
“They were smuggling it in through body cavities,” Duchak said.
Last spring there were two overdoses in the county jail. In March, one female inmate was charged with a third-degree felony after concealing fentanyl and a syringe inside her body cavity and causing another inmate to overdose at the downtown jail.
In April, another woman overdosed on heroin she brought into the jail hidden in the waistband of her clothing. She was revived with Narcan at the jail.
Both women were charged with felony conveyance of illegal substances into the facility.
These days, heroin use seems to be trending downward in Miami County while meth use is on the rise, Duchak said. With meth use, Duchak expects to see an associated rise in violence.
“We’re playing whack-a-mole,” Duchak said.
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