Ohio Highway Patrol pulls out the stops to get heroin off our highways

Drugged drivers and drug traffickers targeted
Ohio Highway Patrol pulls out the stops to get heroin off our highways
Posted at 12:00 PM, Oct 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-16 12:00:58-04

There are two basic ways to combat the heroin epidemic.

  1. Reduce demand by treating addicts and weaning them off the stuff.
  2. Reduce the supply by keeping it out of the hands of addicts in the first place.

The latter is what troopers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol are focusing on as they patrol the state's highways.

How is that working?

The numbers tell part of the story.

Statewide, the Patrol seized 117 pounds of heroin during the first six months of this year. That's up significantly from 2015, when for the entire year just 40 pounds was seized, said Sgt. Anthony Pearcy, a public information officer for OSHP based in Columbus.

In fact, it's the most seized in any one year since at least 2009.

In Warren County, the amount seized year-to-date is 580 grams, a huge increase over the 92 grams seized in 2015.

And in Clermont County, 26 grams have been seized year-to-date, compared with only two in 2015.

But in Hamilton County, troopers seized 442 doses of heroin and initiated 12 heroin cases over the first nine months of this year, which were behind the numbers racked up last year, Pearcy said. The number of doses seized was considerably less than the 2,349 doses seized in Hamilton County last year. And the number of cases was considerably less than the 44 brought last year.

And in Butler County, 20 grams have been seized year-to-date, a sharp drop from the 82 seized in 2015 and the 460 seized in 2014, which was the most since at least 2009.

The numbers don't tell the whole story, though.

Numbers can fluctuate year-to-year, Pearcy said, and one large bust can skew those numbers.

"The drug problem is a regional problem," he said, "and we have to look at it regionally. Hamilton County doesn't provide a clear depiction of what we've seen so far this year."

Heroin cases are typically brought as a result of a routine traffic stop by a trooper on patrol, Pearcy said.

"Traffic stops are a gateway to identify criminal operations, with officers spending more time with traffic violators … to identify cues of illegal activity," he said.

The Patrol also has troopers dedicated to looking for people who use the highways for any criminal activity.

"Criminal Patrol Unit operations have proven to be very successful in curbing criminal activities across the state," Pearcy said. Personnel from that unit regularly help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in joint operations.

To help combat drug-related crime, OSHP assigned each patrol district a criminal patrol lieutenant to oversee crime-enforcement efforts, he said.

"The Patrol adopted a multifaceted approach to combat drugs and drug-related crime using a reallocation of resources, targeted enforcement, specialized officers and statewide initiatives," he said.

In 2012, the Patrol opened new posts in Ohio's three largest metro areas -- Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. At the time, each was staffed with a dozen or more troopers. The Cincinnati post now has 26 officers, Pearcy said.

Over the years, the Patrol has boosted its complement of drug-sniffing dogs and handlers posted throughout the state from 15 in 1992 to 35 this year.

And, earlier this year, the Patrol began issuing troopers anti-overdose medication to carry with them in case they come upon a motorist who's had an overdose, Pearcy said.

Is all this having an impact on the flow of heroin?

It's hard to say, given that there's no way to know how much gets into the state undetected.

But Pearcy said the Patrol finds value in getting even the smallest doses of heroin off the road.

"That's potentially a dose of heroin that may have killed somebody," he said. "One life saved … that's the reason we are there."