More Arrests, Drug Seizures Reveal Fight For Ross County's Streets Is Underway
Cocaine is the most potent stimulant of natural origin. While pure cocaine was first used in the 1880s as a local anesthetic for surgeries and later as a stimulant in tonics and elixirs, its use has evolved into a more recreational drug.
Crack is the "freebase" form of cocaine. Its immediate high and relatively inexpensive cost add to its allure.
The effects of cocaine normally occur immediately after ingestion and can last from a few minutes to a few hours.
Smoking crack cocaine produces a more intense high that can last from 15 to 30 minutes.
Users often feel euphoric, energetic, talkative and mentally alert after taking small amounts of cocaine.
Cocaine use can temporarily lessen a user's need for food or sleep.
After prolonged use, the effects of crack cocaine use worsen. The talkative, energetic person can easily become erratic and violent as the drug affects several systems in the body. It can cause tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches and paranoia.
As the commander of the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force, Maj. Jim Calhoun has seen firsthand how crack cocaine has changed the face of Ross County.
"A couple of words -- 'bad' and 'everywhere' -- can be used to describe how crack is almost taking over," he said.
Cocaine is the most potent stimulant of natural origin. Crack, the "freebase" form of cocaine, is a specially treated and dried form of the drug that purifies it. It is then either smoked directly or burned and inhaled by users.
Crack is generally the narcotic of choice for many drug addicts because of its immediate high and relatively cheap cost.
While large cites are known as epicenters of drug activity, small towns and communities are not immune.
During the first 10 months of 2004, through buys and serving search warrants, 1,994.59 grams -- or 4.4 pounds -- of crack cocaine was taken off the streets in Ross County. That's a street value of $200,500, and 132 case files have been opened on these buys. Each time a buy is made, regardless if it is from the same seller, a case file is opened.
Data from November and December were not available.
"The guys and girls who are out in the field -- while keeping in mind we also have a methamphetamine problem -- I would say easily spend half of their days dealing with our crack problem," Calhoun said. "If it is not fielding calls, doing surveillance or serving warrants, they are buying a $20 rock here and a $20 rock there just trying to build a case."
Once undercover agents feel they have bought enough of the drug to warrant a felony, an arrest is made. To date, 18 such arrests have been made.
However, several pre-indictments soon will be presented to a Ross County grand jury, and many arrests are expected.
In 2003, the task force obtained through buys and executing search warrants only 1,660.69 grams -- or 3.66 pounds -- of crack cocaine with a street value of $167,000. During that time, 24 arrests were made.
The increase in less than a year's time amounts to almost 1 pound of additional crack cocaine seized by the agency.
The street values are calculated by multiplying the number of grams by the average price of a gram. The actual value could be higher or lower. The average price of a gram is $100, but the actual selling price depends on the area, the quality and the seller's relationship with the buyer.
Going to the streets
The Ross County Sheriff's Office and Chillicothe Police Department also take crack off the streets by patrolling areas known for drug trafficking and using other criminal violations and probable cause to search vehicles.
Chillicothe Police Capt. Thomas Hewitt said the technique has been widely successful.
"We aren't saying everyone who is driving through a certain part of the city is there buying drugs, but that's a fact we can't ignore," he said.
"If we see someone coming from a known drug area and they commit another offense like running a stop sign or failing to use a turn signal, we're going to pull them over. If everything checks out, they are free to go."
As a testament to the success of the law enforcement tool, Hewitt recalls how officers recently confiscated 70 grams of cocaine from a 23-year-old man during a traffic stop. While the drug was still in powder form, Hewitt said he believed the suspected drug dealer would cook it into crack or find someone else who would.
The arrest also was disturbing to Hewitt because it illustrated how, for some, selling crack cocaine has become a way of life.
"A few weeks after telling this man to change his lifestyle because I knew what he was doing, he's caught with a felony amount of drugs," he said. "He has already been shot, and I'm just trying to save his life."
Not so untouchable
The crack epidemic has not only impacted Chillicothe and Ross County, but has infected towns throughout Southern Ohio.
"Crack is a problem not only for Chillicothe, but for a lot of other cities in Southern Ohio," Calhoun said. "Our dealers get supplied from cities like Columbus and Dayton and then they turn right around and supply places like Jackson, Washington Court House and Waverly."
Crack can be found on the streets of Chillicothe in any number of places, Calhoun said.
"It's not just the city or the so-called 'bad' part of the city where crack is," he said.
It is being used, sold and cooked everywhere -- from some of the nicest neighborhoods to low-income housing projects.
"People think we are immune to drugs because this is small-town Chillicothe," Hewitt added. "But what makes this town attractive to users also makes it attractive to drug dealers. There is more money here because there is less competition.
"An ounce of crack in Columbus is only worth about $1,000 because users know other dealers are selling it at that price, but in Chillicothe, the money a dealer can make is closer to $2,500. They are standing in line to come down here and sell their crack, and dealers will tell you that."
Crack addiction also touches all socioeconomic backgrounds in the community, Calhoun said.
"It doesn't just touch homes in poor parts of Ross County," he said. "Crack impacts mothers, fathers, the rich and poor and the black and white alike."The rich users just buy crack all the time and the poor buy it when they can."
Calhoun said users have confessed to spending upwards of $50,000 a year on their habit.
"That shows you it's not just the poor," he said.
While cocaine addiction is a worldwide problem to some degree, the United States has seen it grow over the years. In 2000, the Office of National Drug Control Policy said there were an estimated 2.7 million chronic cocaine users and more than 3.5 million occasional users in the U.S. alone.
"The biggest problem I see is supply-and-demand," Calhoun said. "As long as people are willing to buy it, there will be someone around to sell it. For instance, as soon as we arrest Johnny, Sam steps in and takes over."