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Vicious cycle: Major drug arrests becoming routine this time of year


Compiling information for This Week in History is tedious. It requires pouring through old editions of Clay Today and The Crescent, going page by page looking for interesting stories from five, 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

In the process, you quickly learn how things have changed. Hamburger meat used to cost less than $1 a pound. Even more telling is the fact most of the grocery stores from 20 years ago are no longer in business.

The most-problematic epidemic was the scourge of cocaine and methamphetamine. While today’s biggest threats now are methamphetamine and fentanyl, the threat of drug abuse remains the same.

A year ago this week, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office announced 44 people had been arrested in the Middleburg/Clay Hill area as part of a program called “Hammer and Hope.” In the first week, more than 100 charges were filed, including 80 felonies.

”If you are a drug dealer understand that we have a highly trained and professional team of patrol deputies and detectives who love our community and will not allow you to prey upon our children and families,” Sheriff Michelle Cook said.

The sweep led to the confiscation of 188 grams of methamphetamine, 61.5 grams of cocaine and 72.6 grams of fentanyl.

Hammer and Hope not only focused on getting drug dealers off the streets, but it offered help to help addicts and their families escape kick their habits.

Ten years ago this week, we reported a two-day drug sweep near Foreman Circle in Middleburg that resulted in the arrest of 47 people. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office’s Drug Task Force spent a year investigating drug sales in the area. They compiled surveillance and used confidential informants to compile enough information to arrest nearly four dozen people for pushing pills and crack cocaine.

Twenty years ago this week, 27 drug dealers were arrested in operation “Old Timers.” Agents with the sheriff’s office, Green Cove Springs and Orange Park police departments and the Drug Enforcement Agency worked for eight months to put together the raids.

Fast forward to last week. Again proving the third week of July continues to be a big week for law enforcement in their never-ending fight to end drug abuse.

There were eight arrests for trafficking in methamphetamine and fentanyl. There also were 12 arrests for possessing methamphetamine and three for fentanyl.

“I think it’s more coincidence,” Cook said Tuesday. “Our actions are driven by tips, information and the cases we make.”

Cook said there were no organized drug sweeps last week.

“The patrol guys made some nice arrests,” she said.

The sheriff admitted fentanyl has become a bigger problem since it’s so easy to find – and so deadly.

“As long as the border is open, we’re going to have a problem with fentanyl,” she said. “Right now, it’s coming across like candy.”

In response, the Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Children and Families are working in tandem to develop materials to address the current overdose crisis affecting not only Floridians but the nation.

According to a release, responding to overdose requires education and readily available resources at the hands of communities, families, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and health care providers. All agencies, stakeholders and partners can print and display the attached materials in areas such as, but not limited to: law enforcement offices, health care facilities, emergency rooms and hospitals, parks, fire departments, businesses, public areas, rest stops, areas of public transit and educational institutions.

The health department said reported overdoses are increasing, especially with the use of fentanyl.

“These are our family members, these are our community members and these are our people dying because of drugs,” Cook said shortly after announcing the creataion of Hammer and Hope. “We cannot arrest our way out of this drug issue. Do not delay in seeking help for your addiction. I am urging you to come forward and get the help you need. We’re going to continue to make arrests but across our county, there are countless people that need a bridge, a bridge to hope, and tomorrow, we’ll help them cross that bridge.”