Hours apart, sheriffs in two neighboring counties talked about 24 people they say are peddling death by dealing millions of dollars of fentanyl and other drugs.
Thursday afternoon, Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said the Miami Valley Bulk Smuggling Currency Task Force seized more than $2 million of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine plus $120,000 in cash, four cars and a gun in a three-day operation.
“Our community is in danger,” Plummer said. “The Mexican drug cartel is bringing this poison to our community straight from Mexico to Dayton, Ohio. They’re killing our citizens daily.”
EARLIER: Sheriff says 3 Mexican cartels active in Dayton area
Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer said Thursday morning that a drug task force investigation there resulted in indictments of 20 people on 99 felony charges. Officials said seven of the 20 were rounded up by late Thursday afternoon.
“Hopefully, this will make a little bit of a dent,” Fischer said of the Greene County case. “The (Ohio) attorney general is on record saying that we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of the heroin epidemic, and I agree with him. But we’ve got to go after people who are killing our citizens.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who was with Plummer in Dayton, said the drug epidemic ravaging Ohio would be looked at differently if the number of lives were taken by terrorism. He called for more and better treatment options.
“People are dying in community after community around the state. We really need more of a sense of urgency about this,” he said.
MORE: Coroner’s office running short on storage for bodies
Dagoberto Verdugo-Aguirre, 45, Julio Castillo-Egurrola, 30, Cabrera Alvarez, 42, and Emmanuel Sanchez-Perez, 28 — all allegedly tied to the same Sinaloa cartel named in a similar 2015 bust — were arrested for having 44 pounds of fentanyl and 20 pounds of marijuana. Officials said they will be charged federally and more arrests are possible.
The four men arrested will face charges of possession and tracking of drugs and money laundering. Sanchez-Perez is not a U.S. citizen. He faced a previous deportation but returned to the country.
Looking at the spread of drugs on the table, DeWine said: “I can’t even guess how man lives have been lost if this was out in the community. So, clearly, lives have been saved by this law enforcement effort. But the battle continues.”
RELATED: China shipments help fuel local drug trade
Task force leader Capt. Mike Brem said the four people arrested likely already have been replaced and the drugs — located at 110 Klee Ave. and 115 South Delmar Ave. in Dayton plus 332 Hillway Drive in Harrison Twp. — will be replenished by the cartel.
“It really is a drop in the bucket,” Brem said. “The stuff that’s coming over our border. We don’t catch a tenth of it.”
‘No end to these tragedies’
DeWine also advocated for drug education that begins in kindergarten and continues through high school.
DeWine said he’d read about Nathan Wylie, a Dayton 13-year-old who reportedly died of a fentanyl and/or heroin overdose from his father’s stash.
“There’s no end to these tragedies. They just continue on,” DeWine said.
Plummer and DeWine included other public officials in their press conference to underscore the problem.
EARLIER: Heroin bust slows flow from Mexican pipeline
Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent E. Harshbarger said there were 10 suspected overdose deaths on Wednesday.
Officials said Montgomery County alone is on pace for 728 overdose deaths and that 85 percent of the overdoses in 2017 have included fentanyl. In 2016, the fatal overdose number was 349.
Bruce Langos, chair of the county’s drug-free coalition, said there were 2,505 overdoses in 2016 and there’s already been 1,280 in 2017’s first 90 days. He also said 400 Narcan kits have been distributed to county law enforcement and that doesn’t include fire or EMS.
Plummer said there were 53 people detoxing the other day in the Montgomery County Jail and that drug dealers are testing fentanyl analogs on users here.
MORE: Coroner investigates 145 suspected overdose deaths in month
“To the users out there, the next time you stick a needle in your arm, it may be the last time,” Plummer said. “We’re using ungodly amounts of Narcan. The other day in the jail, we had to Narcan somebody 16 times.”
Emily Surico of East End Community Services and other officials said a holistic approach is needed to solve the problem.
‘Nothing like it in my career’
Fischer said society is going to have to come up with an answer to the drug epidemic. “I don’t have the answer,” Fischer said. “It’s an amazing event and nothing like it in my career as a law enforcement officer.”
Fischer said people are not using the help available for drug abuse. “If somebody needs help, come see me,” he said. “We can direct you to a place that will help you.”
DeWine said that while he has said Ohio can’t arrest its way out of this drug epidemic, law enforcement must play its role along with education and treatment.
“It’s not an either or. It’s a question of and,” DeWine said. “We have to do treatment and a better job with treatment and get more people in. We have to do a much better job with education. We’ve got to start in kindergarten, literally, and go K-12 and do something every single year.”
WHERE IS THE PROBLEM? More than half of county’s opioid deaths were outside of Dayton
Plummer said federal, state and local officials recognize the Dayton area is a hub for cartel activity and among the national leaders for overdose deaths per capita. He said resources should flow to this area.
“It’s time we wake up as a community,” Plummer said, asking for other law enforcement agencies to pledge one officer to a two-year term on the task forces. “It’s time we come together, get proper treatment in this community, we throw more dollars at this problem, or we’re going to keep burying people.”
Drug busts, by the numbers
99: Number of felony charges against 20 people in Greene County
$2 million: The estimated street value of the drugs seized by the Miami Valley Bulk Smuggling Currency Task Force.
349: Overdose deaths in Montgomery County in 016
728: Estimated pace of overdose deaths in Montgomery County in 2017 (at least 182 so far)
16: The amount of Narcan doses recently administered to an inmate
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