BUTLER COUNTY (KDKA) — Federal and local law enforcement are working to crack down on people pushing heroin and fentanyl in western Pennsylvania.
United States Attorney David Hickton announced three big developments at a joint press conference at the Region 13 Fusion Center in Butler County.
In McKeesport, seven search warrants were served in different locations. Three people were arrested and charged. Officers recovered suspected heroin, pills and a firearm. Charges are pending against two others.
In Washington County, 18-year-old Tristan Axton appeared before a Federal Magistrate. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin.
In Pittsburgh, a Federal Grand Jury indictment was unsealed. Seven people are accused in a heroin trafficking conspiracy.
“Across Pennsylvania, it has had devastating effects. In 2015 alone, we have lost 3,383 people,” said David Battiste, of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The major focus of the Task Force is to get as much heroin and fentanyl off the streets as possible.
“It is now being manufactured in the synthetic way, and it comes from overseas and it comes from other locations, but it is plentiful, it is dangerous and as you all know we have had three very significant fentanyl outbreaks since the beginning of 2014,” said U.S. Attorney Hickton.
According to U.S. Attorney Hickton, the most recent fentanyl outbreak occurred in August of 2015 in Washington County. It is estimated there were over 300 overdoses. The biggest problem for police was a lack of data. The Region 13 Fusion Center is working to provide law enforcement with the data they need to combat the epidemic. The Fusion Center gathers and analyzes heroin seizure and overdose forms that help them to know where to look for trafficking.
“For years, the FBI and the DEA have been great at collecting large scale big picture information. When we get this form out to the state and local departments we are able to get the little picture,” said Joel Compeggie of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Fusion Center is receiving data from 138 police departments. The Task Force is hoping more will participate.
Knowing specific markings on fatal batches of heroin and fentanyl can help police get it off the streets before it claims more lives.
“A person who is in the throes of an opioid addiction actually runs towards the more potent substances because they believe they are invincible and someone else will die and they will not,” said U.S. Attorney Hickton.
If officers can pinpoint locations where heroin and fentanyl are found, they can better concentrate their resources to make more arrests.