The history of illegal "drug use" in Clay County is a long one, but officials believe the worst in the war on drugs has yet to come.
Clay County Sheriff's Department Sheriff Mike Heaton, Chief Deputy Rob Gambill and various other law enforcement agents -- who will remain unidentified because they are actively involved in drug investigations -- recently spoke with The Brazil Times about the war on drugs and the battles to come.
In the late 1990s, members of Indiana State Police discovered labs for cooking homemade methamphetamine in Indiana, while local officials admitted the discovery of a meth lab in Brazil in March 1999 opened their eyes.
"Everything changed after that," Heaton said. "As the training got better, officers became more aware of what to look for."
As a methamphetamine supply line started running through Clay County and impacting the safety of the community, the CCSD made a decision to fight back.
"It was really affecting Clay County. There were approximately 6-8 people circulating meth in the area with the help of several Clay County residents," Gambill said. "I'm grateful Sheriff Heaton was open-minded enough to not only see what was happening then, but to also see the future ramifications and support our efforts in the case."
Since the summer of 2004, the CCSD, Brazil City Police Department, ISP and various other local law enforcement agencies and federal authorities, including the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Agency, have worked together during three major drug arrest/warrant sweeps and various smaller investigations that led to the arrests and subsequent federal indictments of drug dealers in the county.
The first federal drug investigation that Gambill participated in began in 2004. It was given the case name "Tequila Ice," due to the fact some of the targets in the investigation were smuggling liquid methamphetamine smuggled in tequila bottles. It led to the identification of a drug trafficking group with criminal activity in Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and the Country of Mexico, with numerous arrests in this case.
However, the two main targets were from Clay County and remain incarcerated in federal prison.
The department's participation in "Operation Ice Age" by the DEA in 2006, led to the dismantling of three separate drug trafficking organizations, the indictment and conviction of 64 "big fish" defendants on federal charges and the seizure of more than 40 pounds of methamphetamine.
Thus began a strange pattern of criminal behavior, where as soon as one drug pipeline -- whether it be home-cooked or from an out-of-county source -- was closed down by law enforcement, another would quickly spring up.
But the war continues as many small-time players have been arrested in the past four years.
"Sure, we brought in the minnows," one unidentified drug detective told The Brazil Times. "We have to arrest the minnows, because, if left alone, they grow up to be big fish. These are the individuals who are most likely to introduce kids to drugs, and they usually don't care. Usually when we catch one, it usually leads to another, but we are protecting children by removing them from the streets."
Heaton and Gambill agreed, saying the department's investigations have created such a hostile environment in Clay County that it has forced some of the big drug suppliers and dealers to move out of the community.
"They know it's not safe here for them," Heaton said. "In Clay County, we're going after both the big fish and the minnows. As long as there are crimes related to drug activity, our investigations won't stop."
Establishing good working relationships with larger state and federal law enforcement agencies -- which have more resources at their disposal -- has helped the CCSD to investigate the manufacture, abuse and distribution of illegal drugs, along with various other ancillary crimes associated with drug abuse and sales in Clay County.
The additional help has been invaluable in creating and establishing solid criminal charges against suspects at the local, state and federal levels of the judicial system.
"We've worked so closely (with federal authorities) the past few years, there's no red tape when we call," Gambill said. "They know how we work and there is a level of trust there you just don't get from a cold call."
According to officials, the war on drugs has become more difficult because many people are not hitting the streets to purchase or manufacture drugs, while "pharming" in medicine cabinets is much closer.
The tragedy of prescription drug abuse was brought home to the community with the Fentanyl overdose of a Clay City teenager on New Year's Day.
"Prescription drug abuse is becoming more and more prevalent," Heaton said. "and more dangerous because people don't understand the dangers involved when taking or mixing prescription drugs improperly."
The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently issued disturbing information -- based from the 2001 National household Survey on Drug Abuse -- regarding misuse of prescription drugs, including:
* Of those who end up in hospital emergency rooms from drug overdoses, approximately a half-million people annually, were there because of misusing prescription drugs,
* More than 17 percent of adults over age 60, whether knowingly or not, abuse prescription drugs,
* More than 19 million prescriptions for ADHD drugs were filled in 2000, a 72 percent increase since 1995. An estimated 3-5 percent of school-age children have been diagnosed ADHD. A study of Wisconsin and Minnesota school children determined 34 percent of those age 11-18 reported being approached to sell or trade their medicines,
* During the past decade-and-a-half, the number of teen and young adults, from ages 12-25, who became new abusers of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone or hydrocodone has grown five-fold (from 400,000 in the mid-1980s to 2 million in 2000), and
* Among 12- to 17-year-olds who take prescription drugs without proper medical supervision, girls are more likely than boys to misuse psychotherapeutic drugs.
"People have to be involved in their kids' lives," Heaton said. "Drugs are not only a law enforcement problem, it's a community problem. Does that sound callous? Yes. But drugs and the criminal activity that surrounds them, affect the safety of all levels of society. The social, emotional, financial, educational and medical impact of drugs on our society is huge."
With statistics climbing, many officials believe the war on drugs should be treated like an emergency health crisis.
"Think about the way people responded to the H1N1 virus threat. They quickly moved to action," Heaton said. "People need to treat the growing crisis of drugs -- which impacts all of our daily lives -- with the same serious action."
The officers involved in the interview agreed people from all walks of life have to join forces and work together in a proactive way to fight back against the growing drug culture.
"This is still a good county, a good community with good people," Heaton said. "But that doesn't mean a drug problem doesn't exist."