Police Chief details deadly drugs in area

SALEM — A review of lab results from seized drugs sent for testing shows that heroin is disappearing from the streets of Salem, Police Chief J.T. Panezott said during a recent interview.

That’s good, right? Well, according to the chief, no, that’s not good at all.

“All the drugs that we sent to test for heroin came back as fentanyl and carfentanil,” he said. “That’s what’s killing people.”

Both drugs are synthetic opioids which are far more potent than heroin and methamphetamine and police are finding both drugs mixed in with what users think is just heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

“It’s just plain dangerous for anybody who has a substance abuse problem when you stick that needle in your arm, it could be the last time you do it,” he said

Panezott said users are not being told. People are buying what they think is heroin and it’s fentanyl. For the drug cartels, he said it’s cheaper. A kilo of heroin, which is 2.2 pounds, costs anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000. A kilo of fentanyl from China or Mexico costs $2,500 and it’s 100 times stronger than heroin so it can be sold in smaller amounts. He noted that the federal government is looking for fentanyl being shipped from China, which means the cartels are finding another way by crossing the Mexican border.

Another threat that’s popping up is fentanyl in pill form disguised as oxycodone. As a safety precaution, he said all his officers have been instructed not to handle any pills without wearing nitrile gloves. The department had to update all its gloves because the nitrile gloves offer the best protection. They’re treating all pills as if they are fentanyl and using as much caution as possible.

Panezott said a trend the police have noticed is that it seems the drug of choice in Salem is now methamphetamine instead of heroin. He said they’re still finding one-pot labs for making meth, but users are now much more into the pure meth that’s being produced in super labs in Mexico, also known as Mexican ice.

He described heroin users as down and meth users as more violent and paranoid, adding they don’t sleep for days.

Salem Police handled 34 felony drug possession indictments last year through the grand jury which could include multiple counts. That number doesn’t include any indictments that resulted from Columbiana County Drug Task Force investigations — that’s just patrol officers out there looking for drugs, he said. They also had three indictments for drug trafficking and one for drug paraphernalia.

According to the 2018 year-end report, the number of arrests for drug paraphernalia/drug instruments increased from 56 in 2017 to 74 in 2018. Drug possession/abuse arrests increased from 17 to 23. In 2016, both of those categories only had five arrests. Possession of marijuana/paraphernalia stayed about the same at 93 citations. The number in 2017 was 92, but in 2016 it was only 38.

“The drug cases continue to go up,” Panezott said.

He attributes part of that to having two K-9 units and having officers trained on signs to look for during a traffic stop or interaction with a member of the public. During a recent traffic stop, a car passenger had a pocketful of suspected meth.

Salem has one full-time officer assigned to the DTF and he had a very active year with 27 cases, 22 indictments in trafficking drugs or manufacture of drugs, 17 search warrants or searches by consent, nine guns recovered, four drug education presentations to more than 150 people and the seizing of $869 case and another $420 in counterfeit cash. The department also has a full-time officer assigned to the DEA.

Panezott said the number of felony drug possession cases probably would have been higher if not for the good samaritan law that allows for people who have overdosed and gotten caught with drugs as a result to get a referral for treatment instead of facing charges. If they follow through on what’s expected of them, they won’t be charged. If they fail, they may face charges. They want people who find them or the person themselves to call for assistance.

“We don’t want them to be afraid to call in and get medical help,” he said.