Law enforcement agencies across Ohio are reporting that their budgets and patrols are overwhelmed in response to the opioid/heroin epidemic and the war on drugs. Fayette County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Chuck Kyle has been focusing his patrol on mostly narcotics offenses since 1996.
“There just seems to be a bigger issue with the opiates than with the other drugs, as in people dying, the thefts that recur around people needing to fuel their habit, and it just affects so many people’s lives, not just the ones who are using but the family too,” said Kyle.
“Everything in a sense…revolves around the drugs…a lot of crimes focus around the narcotics. That’s the reason you have the other crimes is because of the narcotics,” he said.
The patrol officers from the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office went through training in 2016 to be able to administer Narcan, a medication to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Prior to that, officers didn’t carry Narcan and the only thing an officer could do was administer CPR until a life squad and paramedics arrived.
Sometimes the police department or the sheriff’s office will respond first to an overdose call, according to Kyle, arriving before the life squad and paramedics, especially if it’s in a rural area of the county.
When officers respond to a call about an overdose, Kyle said the first thing they do is make sure the scene is safe and secure.
“The main thing is we try to administer Narcan and start CPR until the squad arrives,” said Kyle. “Try to at least keep the blood and oxygen flowing through the body.”
Sgt. Kyle said there are certain things he looks for when he is on patrol that would indicate if a person had an opioid dependency or was high was opioids.
“Either their driving pattern, or if I made a stop on them it would be their behavior, their body language. Usually when people do something wrong they’re evasive,” said Kyle.
Another indicator is that the story they give doesn’t make sense. “The further that you talk to them it’s just a compound of different things,” said Kyle. “They don’t make sense.”
Or Sgt. Kyle may notice the different parts of a syringe in a vehicle.
“Like the little cap, a small piece of cloth or something that you’ve seen them use for heroin to tie-off with—on the street they call it a rig—or see a spoon that’s burnt on the bottom, items of that nature,” Kyle said.
He said a person who has recently administered heroin will look as if they are falling asleep, “like they’ve taken a sleeping pill or something” and continue to nod off.
“You have to keep getting their attention. I think that may play partly into why they don’t make sense and why they ramble on,” said Kyle.
Women, human trafficking, and drug trafficking
Sgt. Kyle said that over the 20 years he has been working on narcotics patrols, he has seen an increase in women committing crimes that are related to drug addiction.
“I think when things happen, people have a hard time dealing with things in life, and they try to self-medicate themselves and they try [opioids] and they get addicted. Or people have pain and they convince them, [opioids] will help you with your pain,” said Kyle.
He thinks the number of women in jail for crimes related to drug addiction has tripled in the last 20 years.
“This [opioid] addiction is like no addiction of crack-cocaine or meth or anything else. From what everybody tells us it’s the worst thing they have ever done. It’s like it’s almost impossible to get off of it. Very difficult. I think with that, that you have to have it, that requires people eventually to have more opportunity to get in trouble,” said Kyle.
“To get their fix and get their high, that’s where the thefts and other things come into it and it leads to women getting in trouble over a period of time because they’re out committing crimes,” he said.
Sgt. Kyle said the human trafficking operations that are happening in southwest Ohio are “not necessarily” drug-related, but he has heard of and arrested women who have sold their bodies for sex in order to get money for drugs.
“This is the thing that is a constant that we hear,” said Kyle. “It’s not classified as trafficking where a person has got them under their control, but they will do sex acts with people to get money to go feed their addiction.”
He said the sheriff’s office has been to several trainings on human trafficking and most recently this year attended a seminar at the Police Training Academy in Columbus that talked about what signs to look for.
“I guess we’re a little more rural so we may not see it, and I think there’s more of a chance of them getting caught here because they’re not going to blend in as well as in the big cities,” said Kyle.
But he said human trafficking is, drug-related or not, something that’s hard for law enforcement because it requires more complex and in-depth investigations.
“They keep it so well hidden. They keep these people under their control, like these people can’t do without them or live without them, and they’re afraid to say anything to us because they live under their control,” said Kyle.
“The likelihood is that if there are human trafficking rings in Fayette County, we are going to get calls about people coming in and out all the time,” he added.
The evolving war on drugs
Sgt. Kyle said law enforcement has to continue to change and do things differently to keep up with the “war on drugs.”
“I learn new things. Everybody evolves. If we catch somebody selling and using it, they evolve into doing it some way different and we have to evolve with it. It’s one of those things that’s always changing, in what they’re doing and how we do it,” said Kyle.
He said that it’s worse to fight the heroin epidemic than other narcotics.
“Law enforcement in general across the United States has a war on heroin, war on opiates, and this started several years ago with the pills and in my opinion, I believe that’s what has caused the heroin problem,” said Kyle.
He said that everyone who was addicted to pain pills eventually turned to heroin because it is a cheaper, alternative source due to the restrictions that are now placed on pain pills.
With that increase, Kyle said the amount of enforcement focused on the war on heroin and opioids exhausts the patrol and their budget.
When officers drive around the county, Sgt. Kyle said they pay more attention to people and look for different kinds of behavior. He said there’s about 28,000 people living in Fayette County, making it a much smaller, rural population than urban cities.
“It’s a small community, so when you go to Walmart, you know that this person has been in jail and they have a heroin addiction and you kind of watch them,” said Kyle. “That has a lot to do with it—the knowledge of who people are and like I said, that’s our job and our primary focus is to pay attention to stuff like that.”
He said people with opioid dependency and addiction will try to conceal as much as they can because they don’t want to go to jail or get into trouble.
“They don’t want to sit in there and be sick and throwing up, they don’t want to go through the withdrawals where everything is limited and they aren’t able to get the narcotics freely and openly like they can,” he said.
The price of heroin and opioids depends on how much you buy, Kyle said.
“The going rate is usually a tenth of a gram, they sell it for $20. That’s what they consider ‘a hit’ or they’ll consider it ‘a cap’ because they put it in the clear gelatin caps.”
He said dealers will charge more money for the drug if people are overdosing on it.
“This is what they claim and this is what people have told me. I’ve obviously never went out to buy it, but if somebody is selling some narcotics that people are overdosing on, they consider that ‘good dope’ and then raise their prices,” said Kyle.
He said that over time what people are overdosing on isn’t always pure heroin but is something else that’s in the dope, like fentanyl or carfentanyl.
“The fentanyl is probably what is killing people,” Kyle said. “The fentanyl was a big thing. Now all of a sudden the carfentanyl has hopped into the scene.”
On a warm summer day in Fayette County, Sgt. Kyle was on patrol in the village of Jeffersonville. He initiated a stop on a truck whose driver had a suspended license.
The driver of the truck pulled over to the side of the highway.
Kyle approached and spoke to him briefly before asking him to get out of the truck. He patted the driver down, found a knife in his pocket, and patted down the two passengers of the truck.
In the back of the truck, Kyle removed a black duffel bag. He laid it on the hood of his patrol car, opened it and removed a shotgun.
Kyle took an inventory of other items in the truck, including several large flat screen TVs and a handful of used cell phones. He photographed the shotgun and its serial number and placed it inside the trunk of his patrol car.
The driver and one of the two passengers in the truck had previous convictions that prohibited them from carrying a weapon. Kyle placed them under arrest and into the back of his patrol car. The other passenger was free to leave.
“I should have (expletive) ran,” one of the arrestees said, who then began to yell obscenities from inside the patrol car. “I’m not going to jail. I’ll kill everyone. They aren’t getting me out of this car, they aren’t getting me in that jail.”
Sgt. Kyle placed the TVs in the front of the truck “in case it rained” and had the truck towed. At 3 p.m., about 25 minutes after initiating the traffic stop, Kyle was back inside his patrol car and heading to the Fayette County Jail.
“When’s the last time you used?” Kyle asked the two arrestees on the way to the jail. Both said they had shot up heroin about an hour-and-a-half ago.
“I’m going to beat my head off the wall in the jail just so I can go to the hospital to get something,” said one.
Kyle told them they should get off the heroin. The one who had yelled obscenities said he tried but couldn’t.
“I wish I were,” the man said. “The worst (expletive) in the world is coming down. I can’t take the pain. Worst thing in the world.”
At the end of the day
“I wish they could look into the future and see what they’re doing. Before they start, look at what would happen in five years and the affect it takes on their kids, their parents, their immediate family,” Sgt. Kyle said.
Kyle pointed out that the driver and passenger of the truck he arrested for having the gun under disability looked like a couple of normal people. But, Kyle said, normal people do not drive around with TVs, cell phones, and a gun in their vehicle that they are trying to sell for drugs.
“There’s no stereotype of an addict. We don’t understand what they’re going through…abnormal behavior, what’s normal to you and I…they don’t see.”
It’s the kind of abnormal behavior he sees on a daily basis. And he said it keeps the detectives busy, who are working to find reported stolen property from multiple drug-related thefts and robberies in the county.
The people who are addicted to opioids can’t see how their behavior is affecting other people, said Kyle. He said to make errors is human. “I make mistakes all the time. Everybody is going to make small mistakes in every job or anything you try to do.”
For him, a good day is knowing that he did the best that he could.
“As long as you can go home and feel proud that you’ve done everything you could possibly do today—and if not, learn from it for the next time,” he said.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton
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