Authorities in Cleveland, Ohio have concentrated their energy toward slowing the distribution of dark web-sourced drugs.
This also extends to the fact that they have set more focus in apprehending drug masterminds known to be critical contributors to statistics involving overdose-related deaths.
Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, recently commented on the importance of a multi-agency approach in tackling the opioid crisis in the region.
Concerning this, it would be vital for public health institutions to work with hospitals in ensuring that the epidemic is contained.
According to Herdman, law enforcement agencies have been keen on tackling the opioid crisis by targeting the interception of fentanyl packages that are typically shipped from abroad.
It has been found that the bulk of these drugs are ordered online and move to Cleveland via mail.
In this regard, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) established a taskforce mandated with investigating deaths caused by opioids. The unit partakes in operations that seek to arrest drug dealers whose drugs cause fatalities.
Herdman proceeded to state the exponential advancement in drug enforcement in Northeast Ohio as evidenced by highly efficient police departments.
The distribution of fentanyl, through the dark web, is currently being tackled aggressively because dealers have shifted to the hidden web as a reliable source of drugs.
Furthermore, he stated his witnessing of an upsurge in law enforcement cases involving fentanyl distribution.
Police departments have efficiently identified and disrupted the distribution networks which have greatly metamorphosed in the last decade.
Herdman went on to emphasize on the criticality of public awareness in approaching a solution to the ongoing crisis.
He also mentioned the dedication of his office in prosecuting dealers whose products have resulted in customer deaths.
The attorney’s office has collaborated with that of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor to bring drug criminals to book.
Essentially, drug dealers are usually slapped with a 20-year prison sentence according to federal law. This aspect is applicable in drug cases in which user deaths have been confirmed by prosecutors.
According to Herdman, law enforcement agencies have generally adjusted well to the opioid crisis, and this extends to an expected increase in opiate-death prosecutions by the end of the year.
A Recent History: The Opioid Epidemic in Ohio
It is an unfortunate reality that Ohio tops the national rates of opioid-related emergency room visits.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control intimated that statistics surrounding patient visits to Ohio emergency departments rose by about 28 percent between late 2016 and the end of 2017.
Cleveland Clinic alone had an upwards of 2,300 opioid-related emergency department visits with 1,200 incidents accounting for drug overdose.
A preliminary report by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office indicated that more than 822 lives were lost to drug overdoses in 2017 alone. This statistic is considered to be a record compared to 2016’s cases of 666 deaths.
Unsurprisingly, fentanyl was the largest contributor to the statistics in the county, with about 477 people succumbing to the highly potent synthetic opioid.
The report showed a reduction in fatalities resulting from heroin from 320 to 250 deaths.
The Medical Examiner’s office further revealed that cocaine exhibited an upward trend, with deaths soaring to 349 in contrast with 2016’s 260 deaths involving the drug. Interestingly, more than 50 percent of 2017’s cocaine-related fatalities were attributed to fentanyl.
The opioid epidemic in Ohio has also been influenced by carfentanil shipments. Carfentanil (or carfentanyl) is a powerful drug used to tranquilize large animals in zoos, and has been implicated in drug overdose cases witnessed in Ohio.
The synthetic opioid is hundredfold stronger than fentanyl and is said to have hit the streets of Cincinnati in July 2016. The DEA provides that the carfentanil being traded on the streets is illegally sourced from China via the dark web.
A Recent Drop in Overdose-Related Deaths
Law enforcement agencies in Ohio have been vigilant regarding the state’s opioid epidemic.
This year has seen a significant decrease in the number of deaths involving opioid-related cases. This aspect can be perceived as an influx of optimism in a state that has long been riddled by fatalities involving dark web-sourced drugs.
The dramatic decline is said to be a first in the last eight years that were characterized by a rise in opioid-related deaths. These incidents were attributed to the ease of access to prescription pills and the emergence of fentanyl.
The reduction in fatalities started from late 2017, as provided by data sourced from the Medical Examiner’s Office. The records indicated an improvement in drug enforcement in the most notorious counties forming Northeast Ohio.
Cuyahoga County recorded 98 opiate-related death cases in late 2017, a figure that is no match for the sickening 50-fatalities-a-month reality that typified previous months. For Cleveland, the city recorded 64 fatalities at the beginning of 2018 in comparison to 2017’s 82 deaths.
A Host of Multi-Agency Interventions
Agreeably, Ohio’s dark web-supported drug epidemic can only be solved by a multi-agency effort in tackling the crisis.
This outlook has been observed by the collaborative initiatives established in recent years.
The beginning of 2018 was marked by reports of a federal judge that has established an onslaught against the pharmaceutical industry.
Judge Dan Polster, from Cleveland, asked state attorneys to file lawsuits against drug manufacturers and their distributors. This is owed to the fact that drug companies have been blamed, partly, for the looming drug crisis.
In this regard, the state of Ohio organized settlement talks with the makers of opioid prescription drugs that they have sued on grounds of unlawful marketing.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine accused the pharma organizations of exploiting the state’s addictions by misinforming patients about the dangers of painkillers.
A Specialized Opioid Unit
Notably, Ohio’s fight against the opioid crisis can be observed through the combination of law enforcement and public health in containing the problem.
The Cleveland Police Department contains a narcotics unit that accommodates the Heroin Involved Death Investigation initiative (HIDI) established in 2013.
The unit bears a responsibility to respond to deadly cases of opioid overdose in the city. Over time, the police department has managed to incorporate several facets of law enforcement with social work to ensure an appropriate approach to the opioid crisis.
Additionally, HIDI is tasked with observing drug overdose trends and targeting drug dealers whose products cause harm and death to users.
The work of this unit has, however, been complicated with increased drug availability on the dark web—dealers can easily buy drugs online before distributing them to customers.
The model used by Ohio’s specialized unit has been so successful that other states have moved to adopt the concept.
The Northeast Ohio Hospital Opioid Consortium
The existing state initiatives have, for a long time, been unable to tackle the opioid crisis singlehandedly.
This prompted the healthcare community to initiate an action plan that would accord them a chance to make contributions to solving the exiting challenge.
In this regard, the Center for Health Affairs merged efforts with its Northeast Ohio hospital members to establish a Consortium.
The initiative is the product of an informed decision by community leaders and health institutions to tackle the Northeast Ohio opioid epidemic.
Currently, the Cuyahoga County Opiate Taskforce has been instrumental in ensuring the success of the group, which aims to solve the region’s drug crisis through a healthcare-specific approach.
Most importantly, activities carried out by the Consortium are thoroughly informed by the Heroin and Opioid Action Plan that underlines particular recommendations within the sphere of public health.
Drug Take-Back Programs
Drug take-back programs have also been important in the battle against Ohio’s drug issue.
Police departments across the Northeastern region of the state have carried out events aiming to collect unused prescription drugs.
This exercise was recently done in April 2018 as part of the 15th annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
Take back programs are instrumental in allowing the proper disposal of old prescriptions that are mostly comprised of opiate substances.
This prevents drug misuse that is usually attributed to the upsurge of heroin addiction because most addicts start misusing prescription drugs before moving on to more potent substances such as fentanyl.
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