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Hagerstown police chief warns of dangers of prescription drugs

Washington County Narcotics Task Force presents annual report to city council

February 22, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Prescription drug abuse is “really becoming a big problem” in Hagerstown, city Police Chief Arthur Smith warned this week.

“We haven’t had the numbers of fatal overdoses that they’ve had in West Virginia, but that is one that is not to be underestimated,” Smith told the Hagerstown City Council during a work session Tuesday.

“We were starting to see more heroin. I think the (Oxycodone) has kind of stepped into that niche, and it’s really just as addictive, and people overdose really easily.

“It’s a real, real problem,” he said.

The Hagerstown Police Department is one of several law-enforcement agencies that make up the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, which specializes in investigating cases involving illegal substances and gang-related activities.

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Smith and city police Sgt. Curtis Wood, who has served as director of the task force since 2011, presented the task force’s annual report to the council.

The task force handled 236 investigations in the past year resulting in 306 arrests, with crack cocaine-related cases ranking at the top, Wood said. Crack, marijuana and prescription drugs were the most investigated cases, he said.

The task force executed 49 search and seizure warrants in 2011, resulting in the seizure of $341,704 in cash, four motor vehicles and 22 weapons, including 14 handguns, two Tasers and a sawed-off shotgun, Wood said.

Use of other substances such as synthetic marijuana products, like “Spice” or “K2,” have also been problems, Wood said.

Seven incidents involving the potpourri-like substance caused seizures and other dangerous reactions in 2011, but did not result in any deaths, Wood said.

Lawmakers have been trying to pass bills to make synthetic marijuana products illegal, but manufacturers of the substance have been staying one step ahead of legislation by making small alterations to its ingredients, Wood said.

What makes it so dangerous is that authorities — and users — have no idea what exactly is in it.

“It’s like a Molotov cocktail kind of thing,” said Wood, who noted that Ocean City, Md., has passed an ordinance banning the substance that still can be purchased online.

The task force, which targets upper- to mid-level dealers, originated in 1986 as a joint venture between the Washington County Board of Commissioners, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the county State’s Attorney’s Office, as well as the Hagerstown mayor, city council and police department.

The Washington County Gang Task Force works in conjunction with the narcotics task force to monitor and reduce gang-related criminal activities in the county, which often involve drugs, Smith said.

Smith lauded the longevity and cooperation between the city and county exhibited by both task forces.

“I’m not aware of any drug task force that has had the longevity of this one,” Smith said. “And that’s a real tribute to how well the sheriff’s department and the city police have worked together for a very long time.”

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