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Authorities pledge increased cooperation against opioid epidemic

  • coalition-announcement-jpg

    Sheriff Phil Stammitti and Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh address the Lorain County Commissioners at the Lorain County Administration Building. The announcement centered on the development of a new coalition to fight drugs.



ELYRIA — Lorain County officials are hoping improved collaboration will help stem the opioid epidemic that has engulfed the county.

The first phase of that effort will see the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration send three agents to the county to work closer with the Lorain County Drug Task Force. The agencies will be housed in a building on the grounds of Lorain County Community College next to the new 911 dispatch center the county is renovating.

“We have a huge problem. I can tell you the bad news right now: It’s getting worse,”said James Goodwin, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Cleveland office. “Our current intelligence is indicating that it’s not going to get better anytime soon.”

Goodwin said under the collaborative agreement local law enforcement officers can be sworn in as federal agents for the purpose of drug investigations. Although the local agencies will pay the base salary, he said, the feds will pick up the tab for overtime.

He also said in addition to putting more electronic surveillance capabilities in place to help investigators, the DEA also plans to bring in a single engine airplane to help with reconnaissance and surveillance of suspects during drug investigations.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said the problem has reached such proportions that during one investigation, Lorain police officers were tracking some drug users and had to rush to help them with the anti-overdose drug naloxone when the suspects collapsed in their car immediately after using drugs they had purchased.

County Crime Lab Director Emmanuel de Leon and other officials warned that many people don’t even know what drugs they’re taking because dealers and suppliers have begun mixing fentanyl and even more powerful painkillers in with heroin, cocaine and other drugs. Some of those are so powerful that death can be near-instantaneous.

“What kills people is what they don’t really know,” de Leon said.

Others said that some in the public don’t seem to have sympathy for those struggling with addiction, saying that law enforcement and medical personnel should let addicts die from overdoses.

“I don’t know of any other disease where we would support a let-them-die mentality,” said Elaine Georgas, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County.

Last year there were 131 fatal overdose deaths in the county and officials said Monday the number of fatal overdoses could top 200 this year. Drug Task Force Commander Dennis Cavanaugh said there have been 67 deaths ruled overdoses so far this year and that number will likely climb when the result of toxicology reports come back from six other cases.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of it,” DEA Agent Eric Kochanowski said.

Commissioner Ted Kalo said people who are addicted to the drugs need help and treatment, but he has little sympathy for those dealing the deadly narcotics.

“I’d like to see hellfire and brimstone when it comes to the dealers,” he said. “Bringing you guys in here, I think, is going to be key to cleaning up our neighborhoods.”

Under the terms of the deal, approved by commissioners Monday, the county will take over 201 Burns Road, former home of the Center for Leadership in Education, which closed in 2009. After that organization’s closure the college took ownership of the building.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said the county will pay for the building by donating $100,000 to be used over the next five years for students attending the college’s police academy or studying criminal justice or addiction counseling.

He said it will cost between $1 million and $1.3 million to renovate the roughly 15,000-square-foot building to replace the Drug Task Force’s old headquarters, the location of which law enforcement has long kept from the public at large.

Cordes said he’s hopeful that the first law enforcement officers can move into the building in the next month or so while renovations are underway.

He also said county Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans’ office could be relocated from Oberlin to the Burns Road building, which might be able to eventually support a county morgue.

Evans said he hasn’t been to the building, and that such a move isn’t a done deal from his point of view.

“It’s still kind of in the planning phase,” he said.

But Evans also said there would be advantages to such a move, including being closer to law enforcement investigating overdose deaths. He also said it would be helpful for his office to have its own morgue.

Evans said his office uses the morgue at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center and also works with several funeral homes in Lorain.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.

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