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Officials say drug activity prevalent in Franklin County

April 17, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The drug problem in Franklin County, Pa., has not reached the proportions of that in metropolitan areas, but it is catching up to and is influenced by them, treatment and law enforcement officials say.

"With development and everything moving into the area, I don't think it's long before we see similarities with the drug activity that's going on in the cities," George Reitz said.

Reitz is a prevention specialist with the Franklin-Fulton County Drug and Alcohol Program, which not only educates students and parents about drug abuse, but also refers county students to treatment providers.

"There's not an overwhelming (amount) of drug activity going on, but there has been a slight increase over the past several months from what we've been hearing. ... But it's nowhere near what you'd find in the cities," he said.

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"Relative to the city, this is still a really wonderful community," Assistant District Attorney Angela Krom said.

However, Reitz and Krom cautioned that it is naive to think the county doesn't have a drug problem. Both said drug activity is present in every community.

"It's not a Chambersburg problem. It's not a Waynesboro problem. It's a Franklin County problem," Krom said.

The types of drug abuse tend to vary in severity from one community to another, Reitz said.

He said Waynesboro's heroin problem has dissipated a bit but has been replaced by continued use of marijuana and prescription medications.

Chambersburg has seen an increase in the number of people using heroin, according to Chambersburg Police Chief Michael DeFrank.

"It's not a huge increase every year, but it's a slow, steady increase," DeFrank said.

Shippensburg has crack cocaine, while the Mercersburg and Fannett-Metal areas have prescription drug and inhalants misuse, Reitz said.

"Franklin County tends to be in a direct line with a lot of drug trafficking and dealers going through the area. We tend to be in a hot spot because of where we're located," Reitz said.

Interstate 81 affects the county as a whole, while the Pennsylvania Turnpike affects the northern portion, he said. Interstate 70, with people traveling from Hagerstown, affects Waynesboro and Mercersburg, he said.

"We are a distribution point," Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Ed Asbury said.

Reitz said drug dealers who hail from New York City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are traveling to Franklin County on the weekends.

They buy, sell and leave on Monday, according to Reitz.

He said their constant travels and habit of staying in different locations make it difficult for law enforcement to track them.

Heroin dealers are making daily trips here from Baltimore and Philadelphia, Asbury said.

"You get on the highways, and you're here in a couple of hours," DeFrank said.

He also said criminals come to southcentral Pennsylvania to hide from law enforcement in bigger cities.

Krom, who works closely with the Franklin County Drug Task Force, said it seems that if officers get rid of one cocaine dealer, another immediately steps up to take his spot.

"If there's an open market, someone's going to seize it," Asbury said.

Barry Keller stood up during a public meeting in February and confirmed a growing suspicion about southern Franklin County.

Gang-related drug activity is here, said Keller, the police chief in Washington Township.

"Gangs are here, drugs are here, so we probably have them working together," Waynesboro Police Chief Ray Shultz said, although he noted he was not aware of a specific incident that tied the two.

Gangs from Frederick and Hagerstown are bringing drugs into Waynesboro, although they haven't been establishing homes, Reitz said.

Marijuana and cocaine are the two drugs associated with gangs in the county, Krom said.

"We don't have any organized gangs in the borough (of Chambersburg). We did, but we've managed to control them and break them up and put a lot of people in jail," DeFrank said.

Twenty to 30 percent of inmates in Franklin County Prison were convicted on drug-related offenses, excluding alcohol, Warden John Wetzel estimated.

Reitz said that if drugs are in the community, they are in the schools. Asbury said youths are introduced to illegal and illicit drugs in 10th and 11th grades.

"The main thing they're seeing in the schools right now is marijuana use," he said.

The cost of marijuana has been decreasing as more people grow it at home, Reitz said.

Other illegal drugs - like heroin, crack cocaine and cocaine - are more expensive.

"There can be a very substantial profit in a lot of those," Reitz said.

Methamphetamine can be expensive, but Reitz has not encountered it much in the county. Methamphetamine use is on the rise in Philadelphia and Bucks County.

"We're seeing some meth, but we haven't broken up any meth labs in the borough (of Chambersburg)," DeFrank said, adding that he "wouldn't be surprised" if officers did learn of the existence of a methamphetamine lab.

Waynesboro police officers discovered suspected methamphetamine production in a Best Western motel room last year, but the two people arrested in connection to the incident were from out of state.

"We haven't seen the brunt of it yet," Asbury said.

Reitz said schools recently have been contacting his agency about inhalant abuse. Inhalants cut off the flow of oxygen to the brain.

"One time using an inhalant could be the last time," he said.

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