Destination Mahoning Valley: Heroin on the state’s highways

The Ohio State Patrol beefs up efforts to stop heroin trafficking in Ohio.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) -Sergeant Jeff Greene, with the Ohio State Highway Criminal Patrol unit, sits behind his computer at the Warren Post with pictures of heroin seizures spread across his desk. Most of the deadly cargo can be weighed in kilos, some measured in grams.

It was a busy year for the Patrol–over 14,000 grams of heroin were seized on the state’s highways in 2014. The number seems high, and it is, but it is less than the 46,000 grams seized in 2013.

View a photo gallery of drug seizures here.

Greene said the patrol has taken a proactive stance in cracking down on drug running in the state. They have partnered with local police agencies and developed task forces that are directly involved in drug trafficking. Specialized training involves teaching troopers how to detect what he calls “criminal indicators” during traffic stops. Also, the patrol has added more than 20 K-9 units over the last ten years and now handles 31. View a photo gallery of Valley K-9s here.

The efforts are part of a concerted effort to track and seize drugs being transported through Ohio, which has been identified by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.”

The DOJ Drug Market Analysis states the increased supply is coming from Mexico and that most law enforcement officials identified heroin as the greatest drug threat in their areas. Law enforcement officials from Mahoning, Summit, and Stark Counties report that the amount of heroin available in their jurisdictions is increasing and that local distributors are able to obtain larger quantities of the drug, according to the report.

Greene said some stops on the highway that result in drug seizures are random, others are coordinated efforts to track, stop and seize incoming shipments.

“We may be working with an agency from California and we are tracking it. They may want it stopped here, or they want to I.D. those persons here and try to understand where the drug market goes to.” Greene said. “They know where it is coming from. We want to know where it is going.”

Click the map to view drug seizures by routes.

Greene points out that most of the seizures in northwest Ohio on Interstate 80 and some heading north on Interstate 75 are destined for the Mahoning Valley. The drugs move north from Cincinnati and Columbus to stops in Toledo, Cleveland, Warren and Youngstown.

There were 804 heroin seizures on Ohio’s state highways last year- a total of 14,368 grams. That’s down from 46,307 grams seized in 2013. But while the total amount of grams seized has decreased, the amount of cases or seizures has increased by over 200. The numbers may indicate that more runners are out there carrying smaller amounts of the drug.

In Mahoning County, 36 grams of heroin were seized by the patrol in 2014. A drastic contrast to the 447 in 2013. In Trumbull County, 17 grams of heroin were seized last year, down from 18 in 2013.

Greene said heroin is being found in cars, trucks, tractor-trailers, sedans and luxury vehicles. There really isn’t a “certain” type of vehicle or a profile of a typical runner. They come from all walks of life.

“You may have a drug runner who rents a car because he can’t risk getting his vehicle seized in a stop because his wife may need it to get the kids to school Monday morning. They live regular lives. This is something they do to make money- a job,” Greene said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol began training troopers in criminal interdiction in 1985. The effort has created a valuable tool for local law enforcement. Many stops on the interstate are tracked back to local criminal investigations.

“One traffic stop involved personal use drugs and guns but led to solving three burglaries in local counties. It also led to an individual selling drugs, which involved another local agency and also turned up a warrant where someone else was picked up,” Greene said.

It is that networking and sharing of intelligence that is a major component of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Heroin Unit. DeWine set up the new task force after a county by county study showed that heroin deaths were spiking in the state. DeWine said the Patrol’s efforts in targeting drug transportation on the highways is critical because they know the avenues for the drug runners.

“The major goal of that Heroin Unit is to work with local law enforcement to get intelligence, and many times the information we get may result in something happening on the highway,” DeWine said. “All this is interrelated. We all have the same objective and that is to work together to save lives in Ohio because heroin is a huge killer.”

And theses days there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. Greene said troopers are faced with desperate people working for cartels in Mexico, or runners who have to answer to a local distributor if a shipment is stopped and seized.

“If I expect to stop a drug runner, I know guns and drugs go together and I better be on my game,” Greene said.

In the past five years, the Ohio State Highway Patrol has made 35, 265 drug arrests on highways across the state.

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