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‘Highly involved’

Drug activity dips during lockdown

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton While drug activity decreased during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, that’s no longer the case and the Warren County Drug Task Force is back in full swing. That has included this evidence from a busted meth lab.

It’s no secret that the economy took a serious hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the most restrictive period back in March and April.

But it wasn’t the only market affected.

The drug trade in the county was impacted, as well.

Chief County Detective Brian Zeybel said there was a “noticeable decrease in activity” through April and May “at the height of the pandemic when people were still scared of COVID.”

“It just seemed like nobody was moving,” he added. “People (were) doing their own thing.”

Zeybel said that intelligence to the Warren County Drug Task Force was “slow” — where his phone might ring with new information daily now, it would ring just a couple times a week when the stay at home order was in effect.

The Drug Task Force also had to limit its activities, as well.

Zeybel explained that with the Task Force — being made up of local law enforcement that were needed at their respective departments — was concerned about “getting COVID while doing a drug buy,” which could hamstring the various departments.

He said the Task Force was still active but action “had to be very worthwhile to enter someone’s home or work with CIs (confidential informants) the way we do. It had to be worth the risk.”

As a result, they were “very picky and choosy” during that period. “Everything just slowed down.”

Though still under a disaster declaration at the county and state levels relative to the pandemic, that activity is no longer on the wane.

“(I) would say things are almost back to normal,” First Assistant district Attorney Cody Brown added.

“Meth is back to full swing,” Zeybel added.

And that’s the “drug of choice,” per District Attorney Rob Greene.

Zeybel said he was recently interviewing someone they picked up for drug offenses and the individual told Zeybel he couldn’t find marijuana but could find methamphetamine “because meth was that popular and he was still mad about that.”

City of Warren Police Chief Joe Sproveri’s monthly report to Warren City Council showed an increase in opioid overdoses year over year.

“Our county, including our city, has a significant meth problem at this time,” Sproveri said, explaining that it can be difficult to determine between a meth overdose and opioid overdose “unless someone were to die” and a toxicology report was returned.

When asked if there was a connection to the lockdowns brought about by the pandemic, Sproveri said he “would say that’s very feasible.”

He said that mental health calls have “skyrocketed,” as well.

Sproveri said city officers are “highly involved” in the Drug Task Force and said there “was a point in time when Drug Task Force activities decreased.”

Now?

“We’ve been full speed ahead,” he said.

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