Fentanyl deaths here have drawn the eye of the U.S. Department of Justice, which is targeting drug trafficking networks across the country.
The formation of Operation S.O.S. — which stands for Synthetic Opioid Surge — was announced July 12 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
It will crack down on 10 districts with some of the highest drug overdose death rates, including northern Ohio and Lorain County specifically.
While still tragic, just 12 or 13 opioid overdose deaths per year was the local norm from 2000 to 2009, according to the county coroner’s office.
Last year, there were 132 and fentanyl was the number one killer.
Dennis Cavanaugh heads the Lorain County Drug Task Force. In 2017, he counted 1,178 times that law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics across Lorain County responded to overdoses — and not just in Lorain and Elyria. The problem has taken root in tiny villages like Wellington and LaGrange, as well as suburbs like Amherst and Avon.
In addition to lives, the opioid epidemic cost Lorain County an estimated $200 million in 2016 alone, according to a study sponsored by the Nord Family Foundation.
Operation S.O.S. will involve a coordinated response by the Drug Enforcement Administration special operations division. Agents will take leads from street-level cases and track them to larger-scale dealers.
“We at the Department of Justice are going to dismantle these deadly fentanyl distribution networks. Simply put, we will be tireless until we reduce the number of overdose deaths in this country. We are going to focus on some of the worst counties for opioid overdose deaths in the United States, working all cases until we have disrupted the supply of these deadly drugs,” Sessions said.
Synthetic opioids killed more Americans than any other kind of drug in 2016, according to the attorney general.
He warned that just three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal — that’s not even enough to cover up Lincoln’s face on a penny.
Operation S.O.S. was inspired by an effort in Manatee County, Fla., where federal attorneys “have shown that prosecuting seemingly small synthetic opioids cases can have a big impact and save lives, and we want to replicate their success in the districts that need it most,” said Sessions.