OSCO ‘aggressively’ targeting dealers after overdoses rose in 2020. Where do the drugs go?
Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office investigators found more than 1,000 grams of blue pills resembling oxycodone scattered around a home while executing a search warrant June 8.
The pills tested positive for fentanyl and ended up being one of the largest drug seizures in the county so far this year, with an additional 200 grams of methamphetamine also found in the residence on Duval Street in Fort Walton Beach.
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Capt. David Allen, who oversees the Criminal Investigations Division, said the Sheriff’s Office seizes multiple kilograms of methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and combinations of heroin and fentanyl each year.
The agency has made 564 drug arrests in 2021, and typically ends each year with about 1,000 arrests. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, and heroin have been an issue in the county for years, but Allen said the deadly combination is becoming more prevalent than other drugs.
“It is causing a lot of deaths,” Allen said. “It’s causing hundreds and hundreds of overdoses where first responders are having to respond to save peoples’ lives on multiple occasions.”
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In 2020, the OCSO investigated 277 overdoses, with 24 resulting in death. In a previous interview, Sheriff Eric Aden estimated the number of overdoses investigated by area law enforcement agencies was likely closer to 500, with 50 deaths.
These numbers far outmatch the 172 overdoses investigated by the OCSO in 2019, although Allen said it’s hard to pinpoint why there continues to be a rise in fentanyl and heroin usage.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration's 2020 Drug Threat Assessment, Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) have been trafficking substantially greater amounts of fentanyl pills into the Unites States as domestic operations appear to be waning.
The drugs are often combined and compressed into counterfeit tablets resembling medication like oxycodone. The TCOs commonly use a counterfeit brand of illicit 30 mg oxycodone pills which are blue, round and stamped with an “M” on one side and “30” on the other.
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“We’re starting to see an increase in the medications, basically the counterfeit prescription pills that are ending up being fentanyl, heroin, or sometimes they come back as methamphetamine,” Allen said.
About 71% of the tablets are consistent with Mexican TCO illicitly manufactured fentanyl production techniques — many containing a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, according to the DEA.
Most illegal drugs found in Okaloosa County can be traced back to major cities in surrounding states where some of those organizations are based, including Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, Allen said.
The suspect in the June 8 arrest was believed to have been storing, packaging and distributing narcotics from his home, and reportedly attempted to destroy the drugs with paint thinner when deputies forced entry into the house after “numerous verbal commands.”
He now faces multiple drug trafficking charges, as well as charges for tampering with evidence and obstruction of an officer. This case was notably one of the largest in months, but Allen said drug seizures are an almost daily occurrence in Okaloosa County.
Once seized, the drugs are stored as evidence until the court case concludes. They then are taken to one of several plants in Central Florida to be burned. About 2,000 pieces of evidence are destroyed on a quarterly basis, including hundreds of drugs.
The use of such drugs is something that can go undetected, sometimes until it's too late, Allen said. Many overdose deaths the Sheriff’s Office has investigated have involved fentanyl or heroin.
As a result, Allen said investigators are "aggressively" targeting dealers and, in some cases, pursuing homicide charges.
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Fentanyl was added by the Florida Legislature to the list of drugs eligible for homicide prosecutions in 2017. An article published in June 2020 by the Florida Bar Journal said that was part of a series of laws passed by the Florida Legislature to address the rise in deaths caused by fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.
On May 13, a 36-year-old Fort Walton Beach woman was arrested on allegations she sold illegal narcotics to a 28-year-old victim who ultimately overdosed on them. The victim was found unresponsive after reportedly taking the drugs believed to be a combination of methadone, heroin and fentanyl.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that there’s a lot of people out there that have a drug problem,” Allen said. “When it’s not in their face, they don’t think about it unless they see it in the news or something like that.”
Every time investigators make a major drug seizure and a dealer is taken off the street, Allen said there appears to be a decline in overdose deaths. Although not nearly the largest drug seizure ever recorded in the county, the Sheriff’s Office has seen a slight decrease in overdoses since the June 8 arrest.
“If we’re working on a major trafficker, we’ll see a slight decline in overdoses in the area,” Allen said. “Unfortunately working in narcotics, someone fills that void and we have to start all over again. But there definitely is an impact when we arrest a major dealer.”