Drug Task Force is fighting the good fight

MARTINS FERRY – The Drug Taskforce has fought to keep the streets of Belmont County drug free since its creation.

Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland heads the task force as its commander, taking over for the late Bethesda Police Chief Tim Zdanski in September.

McFarland, along 9-10 active members representing other law enforcement entities throughout the county, comprise the roster of the task force.

They have worked tirelessly to stop the high volume of illegal substances that have been moving through the valley. Because of the high volume of drug trafficking, the task force’s roster has swelled to between 10-12 members recently.

“Our main goal is to get the drugs off the streets,” McFarland said.

“With the way things are currently with the addiction to prescription painkillers and drugs getting into the hands of the young people of this area, the seriousness and the rate of people addicted to prescription drugs is outrageous.”

In the last 15 years, the Drug Task Force as seen a larger increase of people pass away due to the abuse and addiction to prescription drugs. Heroin use is also on the rise locally.

“Over the last five or six months, we’ve seen a giant increase in heroin in Belmont County,” said McFarland. “The high you get off heroin is similar to the high you will get off prescription mendication. People are getting the same high for a lot cheaper price.”

Each of the last three raids performed by the task force involved large quantities of heroin, with one include a male that was transporting heroin into the county. In 2012, the case load for the task force was roughly 200.

“We are aggressively trying to get all drug dealers we can,” said McFarland. “It’s tough, I mean, we try to focus on the larger drug dealers, then again I know there are smaller drug dealers that move into the neighborhoods, where there are schools.”

Until recently, the biggest challenge the Drug Task Force faced was funding. Recently, the Belmont County Commissioners gave the Drug Task Force almost $13,000, which McFarland said has been an enormous help. The prosecutors have also allowed a number of items, such as computers, that were purchased with drug money to go back to the task force for the agents’ use.

“Currently, right now the Drug Task Force is in good standing order, we are moving forward and are able to focus on larger drug dealers, where we can make bigger buys,” said McFarland. “In the future, I hope we can continue to get better. One of the unfortunate things that we do hope to change in the future is that the officers do not get paid any extra money for the work that they do … A lot of people don’t understand they don’t get paid over-time.”

These officers volunteer many hours to the Drug Task Force, working to make Belmont County a safer place and working to keep these drugs out of the hands of kids. One thing McFarland does encourage is that anyone that suspects someone of selling should notify the task force.

He also wants to remind the public that this takes times and effort on the officer’s part.

“This group of officers sacrifice a lot to make things better,” said McFarland. “I’m happy with everything they do and appreciate the time they put in. The departments they represent they do what they can to free them up to conduct these investigations away from their regular work duties but almost all the time they spend doing these investigations is in their free time.”

Van Dyne may be reached at kvandyne@timesleaderonline.com