Motorists often see Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers pulling over speeders or investigating car accidents.
But more and more, as cheap and dangerous drugs are resulting in increased arrests both across Ohio and locally, troopers are devoting time on the job to drug-related crime.
Statewide statistics released this month by the Ohio State Highway Patrol show that the patrol’s heroin arrests for the first half of 2013 have already doubled those during the same period in 2012.
Felony cases involving prescription opiate pills, such as oxycodone or methadone, have similarly increased.
The patrol seized nearly 40,000 scheduled opiate pills between January and June-double their three-year average from 2010-2012.
In fact, June saw the largest prescription pill seizure in the OSHP’s history, said Lt. Carlos Smith, commander of the Marietta post.
Troopers are trained to look past the initial traffic stop for other suspicious behavior, explained Trooper Eric Knowlton.
“There are definite signs we look for-driver behavior,” he said.
Knowlton won a 2012 Criminal Patrol Award for having more than five felony arrests.
The majority of Knowlton’s seven felony arrests were pill seizures, he recalled.
The pills and heroin point to increased opiate use, something that local law enforcement has also noticed, said Major Brian Schuck with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
“The No. 1 drug we’re seeing and combating is heroin,” he said.
After that comes prescription pain pills, he added.
So far the Major Crimes Task Force, which operates in Washington and Morgan counties, is on track to soon surpass their total opiate arrests for all of last year.
Last year totaled 69 opiate arrests. The task force has made 56 opiate busts so far this year, Schuck said.
“We’re going to have substantially more this year if the trend continues and I suspect it will,” he said.
Another dangerous problem exploding continuing locally is homegrown methamphetamine labs.
“You have to have pseudoephedrine to make the meth, but the other ingredients are simple and normal things you can buy in any grocery store,” noted Schuck.
In 2012, the task force investigated and neutralized three meth labs. This year, they’ve seen 21-almost all of which were in Washington County.
Washington County is a user area, Schuck said, meaning drugs found in the county are generally for use and not for trafficking.
The majority of felony drug arrests made by the Marietta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol last year were local offenders, said Smith.
One main reason the drug use is escalating is because those particular drugs are cheap and accessible, said Schuck.
“You can travel up to Columbus and buy a balloon of heroin for $8 to $10 and come down here and sell it for $50,” he said.
It is cheaper and less heavily monitored than prescription pills, he added.
Heroin poses a similar risk for addiction and also poses an incredibly high risk for overdose, Schuck added.
“Now you’re relying on someone you don’t know in Columbus or another large source city to sell you heroin and you have to trust there’s nothing added to it even though just the heroin itself can kill you,” he said.
The increased number of drug arrests this year can not entirely be attributed to increased drug usage, though, said Smith.
In fact, while the patrol has made more drug arrests this year, it has actually seized less of the drugs.
Marijuana, crack and powder cocaine, and heroin have decreased in total pounds seized this year.
One reason arrests are up while drug amounts are down is increased enforcement, said Smith.
“The addition of new officers put on the road and just an overall knowledge among troopers is helping,” he said.
At this time last year, the Marietta post was operating with nine troopers. Currently it has 12, said Smith.