Drug trade in county on increase

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2003

In recent years, small towns across the country have been faced with

drug trafficking that was once limited to big cities.

Ironton is no different.

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"All drug activity has increased over the last few years," Ironton Police Chief Bill Garland said. "The major cities are where the problems are but it has filtered down to the smaller town because of the competition."

Law enforcement officers are finding that many drug dealers are coming from Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit and other cities to sell their products or trade for drugs that can be purchased cheaply in this area, he said.

Garland called it a major problem that needs 24-hour attention. Something that is difficult to do when operating on a tight budget.

"We are in between a rock and a hard place," he said. "If we could do away with the drugs, this city would not have any financial or crime problems."

The most commonly seized drugs in the city are crack cocaine, cocaine, marijuana, OxyContin and other pharmaceuticals,

Bowman said.

As an illustration of how big an issue drugs have become, Garland said that there have been four armed robberies in the last month that were caused because the man was a drug addict who needed a fix.

Last year, the first crystal meth lab in the city was busted and illustrates that problems that used to be exclusive to big cities have come to Ironton.

"Drugs are a big business," Garland said. "It has become so lucrative that people do not care about spending time in jail to make that kind of money."

Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton said all the agencies are as frustrated as many residents may be.

He said they will continue to target people bringing in the drugs from out of state, regardless of any budgetary problems that still need to be addressed.

"Obviously, drugs is the biggest problem facing law enforcement today, short of budgeting and finances" he said. "I would say 80 to 85 percent of our crimes are drug related."

After 33 years as an attorney and 11 as the Lawrence County Prosecutor, J.B. Collier Jr. agreed that this is a real problem and seems to have increased. In addition to the drugs themselves, the community is left to deal with the consequences of drug use that often includes shoplifting, burglaries, armed robberies, domestic violence and more.

For small towns such as Ironton and rural counties such as Lawrence, a combination of the lack of manpower and funding is compounded by the fact that many of the officers are recognized by the perpetrators so it is difficult to stay undercover, Garland said.

"We are small-town people trying to stop big-city crime," he said.

To help address the manpower problem, Garland transferred uniformed officer Jimmy Akers to the investigations division and reshuffled the schedule to alleviate overtime for others.

Although it may be impossible to ever totally eliminate the drug trade, it is important that all the different agencies such as the Lawrence Drug/Major Crimes Task Force, the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office, the city and the federal agencies cooperate to suppress it as much as possible, Garland said.

"We are working hard, and working hard together," Sheriff Sexton said. "That is the key to help us increase our presence. But, we need additional funding. I can't say that enough."

Even with only $54,000 in state funding, Sexton said he would put the local drug task force up against any in the state as far as producing results.

Also, all the agencies agreed that the support and assistance of the public is absolutely crucial to helping law enforcement target the drug dealers and get them off the streets.

"If the people do not keep their eyes and ears open, then we are lost," Garland said. "We have to have the cooperation of the public. Because of our lack of manpower, we have become reactive instead of proactive."