DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — It’s a drug threat this country has never seen before, in which most pills on the street are now laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl.
The DEA says it knows where the drugs are coming from, but stopping the flow to the Miami Valley is an always-changing challenge.
Dayton sits at the crossroads of two major highways, I-70 and I-75, and within a day’s drive to 80% of the U.S. population. It checks all the boxes for big business, including the multi-billion dollar illegal drug industry.
Orville Greene is the DEA’s Special Agent in Charge of Michigan, Ohio and Northern Kentucky. He says the highway system in Dayton is perfect for Mexican cartels. “Wherever the cartels can actually move that product, that’s where they’re going to set up shop.”
Steve Lucas, DEA Resident Dayton in Charge for the Dayton office, adds that the cartels “have an enormous amount of product, whether that’s fentanyl or methamphetamine and other drugs. Their goal is to pollute the U.S.”
Lucas has been working to dismantle the drug network in Dayton for 18 years. He says while the kinds of drugs have changed over that time, how they get here has not, “through vehicles, trap compartments.”
Greene adds, “The majority of the illicit drugs that comes into this country come through legitimate ports of entry. In vehicles, tractor trailers. With our produce, our avocados, with the regular produce that we go to the grocery store and buy.”
Which raises the question: If we know how they are coming in, why can’t we check every truck, check every car, check every bag, check every plane?
“It is an impossible task,” says Greene. “We would essentially cripple our own commerce, and there wouldn’t be any movement going across the border or coming into the United States.”
Which, according to Lucas, leaves it up to policing, intelligence and surveillance. “All we can do is to do the best we can to take down the highest-level violators and put a dent in there.”
According to the DEA, 70% of pills making their way to Miami Valley cities and suburbs contain a lethal amount of fentanyl, often innocently shared with unsuspecting victims looking for Oxycodone or Adderall.
Says Greene, “People actually think you can buy legitimate prescriptions from some guy you meet on social media.”
And the pills look the part, nearly identical in shape, coloring and stamping to those issued at pharmacies.
The untrained eye would never know. Greene says, sometimes, even the experts can not tell. “Some of our chemists, the professionals, can not tell you which is the fake and which is for real.”
The DEA says they are fighting on two fronts: to stop the flow of drugs to the Dayton area, but also to stop the demand for it.
If there are no users, there would be no need. A far-fetched fantasy that Lucas admits “would be great.”
Lucas says there is no political answer to this, no magic words from any politician or from any political party.
He says the words that carry the most weight come around the kitchen table from open conversation between parents and kids, educating them on the lethal consequences of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.