Local task force part of drug crackdown

Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence, left, is shown with Deputy Prosecutor Trent Daniels in her office in November 2021. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record
Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence, left, is shown with Deputy Prosecutor Trent Daniels in her office in November 2021. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Drug task force officers statewide, including Garland County, banned together starting Nov. 1 to "eradicate illicit and deadly drugs," culminating with Operation Task Force Arkansas on Jan. 25, with the local DTF making 66 arrests over the three-month period.

"This is a new day in Arkansas," Arkansas Drug Director Boyce Hamlet said in a news release about the operation.

"We are grateful to our drug task force agents and commanders for their cooperation and leadership. If you are a person that deals fentanyl and opioids in our communities, to our families, and around our children, you need to understand the old way of doing business is over," he said.

Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence, whose office oversees the 18th Judicial District East Drug Task Force, told The Sentinel-Record Thursday, "We were happy to take part in the operation, working with drug task forces across the state, working together to stop drug trafficking."

From November to the end of January, the local DTF made 66 arrests, including 60 involving meth, three for fentanyl and three for marijuana, recovering 16 firearms, 5,115.2 grams of meth, 4.68 grams of cocaine, 23.4 grams of fentanyl, 774.3 grams of marijuana, 496 prescription pills, 19 grams of opioids, 21 marijuana edibles, and five vape pens, and seizing five vehicles.

During Operation Task Force Arkansas, from Jan. 23 to 25 alone, the local DTF made nine arrests -- six for meth and three for fentanyl, recovered 101 fentanyl pills, or 18.2 grams, 110.5 grams of marijuana, 4,751 grams of meth, 268 pills, $153 worth of psychedelic mushrooms, and confiscated $3,112 in drug money, $6,500 in property and two vehicles.

Part of the three-month initiative included the Dec. 2 raid on a residence at 664 Mountain Pine Road, that had been boarded up since 2013 from a previous raid, and the arrest of seven suspects on multiple felony charges involving drugs and firearms.

Prosecuting Attorney Trent Daniels, the acting commander of the DTF, had said at the time the residence was "a major nuisance to the community," involving several felons "who aren't supposed to have guns, aren't supposed to be on that property, who were on that property, with guns, selling drugs."

As part of the latest operation, Daniels said Thursday the DTF has been working with Arkansas Community Corrections officers "targeting some of those who had search waivers on file that are known to be a problem."

They also served several outstanding warrants for delivery of drugs as part of the concentrated effort, noting, "We had someone in our office working with us on the operation."

The statewide effort "led to more than 1,200 arrests, confiscation of hundreds of firearms, and more than $55 million of fentanyl, meth, cocaine, opioid pills, and other drugs," the release said.

"Arkansas is sick of the death, destruction, and sadness you have brought upon our state. We may have missed you this time, but we won't the next time. Make a business decision and find a new profession. You have been warned," Hamlet said.

All 18 operational DTF units in Arkansas ended the three-month focus with the three-day intense warrants sweep serving 300 total warrants. In just three days, officers were able to confiscate 122 grams of fentanyl, 6,572 grams of meth, 500 prescription pills, 500 counterfeit pills (mostly fentanyl), 79 firearms and make 256 arrests.

Since the first day of 2023, they have totaled 522 arrests, more than 1.5 million grams of drugs (including 609 grams of fentanyl and nearly 60,000 grams of meth) and nearly 23,000 pills, with an estimated value of over $21.8 million.

Since Nov. 1, the officers have made 1,274 arrests, seized 372 firearms, and amassed 2,262,090 grams of drugs and 39,324 pills with an estimated value of over $55,3 million. Those included 657 grams of crack cocaine, 6,932 grams of powder cocaine, 165 LSD or ecstasy doses, 573 grams of heroin, 11,068 grams of fentanyl, over 1.8 million grams of marijuana, 260,728 grams of meth, 18,392 opioid pills, 20,726 counterfeit pills, 2,0036 grams of kratom, 1,541 vape pens, and 138,500 grams of other drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms.

According to the release, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics indicate an estimated 93,331 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 2020, an increase of 29.4% from the 72,151 deaths predicted in 2019.

In Arkansas, 618 people died from a drug overdose death in 2021.

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