Editor's note: The following article contains excerpts of an interview conducted by staff writer James Fisher with two members of a West Virginia drug task force. Working on such a task force usually means long and varied hours for the officers. It also requires that their identities be concealed when speaking publicly. For this reason, The Exponent and Telegram will not divulge their names, which task force they are assigned to or even which department they work for. Even in a small state like West Virginia, the possibility of retribution by those who deal or supply drugs is a very real threat to the officers. Likewise, revealing their identities, even inadvertently, could damage past, ongoing or future investigations.
This article, which consists of direct quotes from the officers, examines the proliferation of drugs in North Central West Virginia.
Over the past several months, a new drug has found a home among junkies, addicts and even casual users. This new drug, OxyContin, is readily available, fairly cheap and is rapidly growing in popularity.
This article also looks at why drug officers do what they do, despite the stiff competition and the seemingly insurmountable odds. In a true sense, drugs in America are like the mythological Hydra. For every dealer or supplier who is taken off the streets, two more move in to take over.
Each officer interviewed has more than 10 years experience in law enforcement, and both have worked plain-clothes and deep undercover. Both have extensive schooling and have worked all over the country.
This is their story, in their words.
"Around here, we mostly see crack, pills and pot. Ecstasy is just starting to make its presence known here. OxyContin has started within the last year or so and has really come on strong over the last eight or nine months. Most of the people who take OxyContin are heroin addicts. OxyContin affects the body the same way as heroin, morphine or Dilaudid.
"Dilaudid used to be the big drug of choice for heroin addicts in this area. OxyContin has put an end to that.
"The thing about drug abuse is that it leads to auxiliary crime. Shoplifting and breaking and entering go hand-in-hand with drugs.
"Marijuana and LSD (acid), they're the staples. We could probably spend our whole careers just on marijuana. Every time a uniform (officer) makes a traffic stop, probably in eight of every 10 cars there's either marijuana or some indication that there's been marijuana. We have a budget, just like anyone else, and we have to weigh the cases. You don't buy drugs just because someone is selling them. You have to make decisions, but sometimes you hate to.
"With drugs, there are no gender boundaries, no age boundaries, no race boundaries. It affects everyone.
"Crack will take everything you own. I've known people with families, houses, businesses (and) money that have lost everything because of crack. Once it gets its teeth into you, you'll be out committing armed robberies just to get that $50 for the next rock.
"I had a 'crackhead' tell me once, you'll never have a high as good as your first and if you smoke once, you're a casual user, if you smoke it twice, you're an addict.
"Crack is probably the second most prevalent drug to pot, simply because pot can be grown anywhere. I'd guess that OxyContin and other pharmaceuticals are closing in on crack. OxyContin is becoming a scourge.
"This job is always changing. It's different every single day and sometimes it's different from one moment to the next. If you can think of it, they've (drug dealers) done it. You have to think on your feet and think outside the box. There are no boundaries and no parameters. It's a challenge and it's constantly changing. No two things are ever alike. No two days, no two investigations, nothing.
"The thing, to get these guys it's like, 'I have to be smarter than you. I have to out-think you. I have to decide how you're going to commit a crime, how you're selling the drugs, who you're selling to and how can I stop it.' When you're working the road and you get, say, a DUI, then I know if I've done the procedures right and have all the paperwork filled out right, I'm going to get the conviction. There's no manual for how to do this.
"It's kind of like that Apollo 13 thing. You have to figure out a way to fit this square thing in this round hole, and you have 45 minutes to do it.
"The biggest thing we hear about is the overtime. We hear about it from the bosses and we hear about it from our families. But you've got to be there. You have to be there when the drugs are there. If we were watching one drug dealer, we'd work when he did. But we're watching guys who work in the morning and the afternoon and after midnight. We live and die by this pager. When it goes off, we go to work.
"Cooperation with the uniforms is the most important thing we have. They tell us stuff and we tell them stuff. The problem sometimes can be getting that cooperation. They'll say, oh you're doing that 'Secret Squirrel' stuff. That's the term we hear a lot, 'Secret Squirrel.' But we're working on bringing everybody together, the 'Secret Squirrel Club' and the 'Uniform Club,' because in the end we're all after the same thing.
"We're fortunate here that we don't have street dealers just standing around on street corners trying to sell to every car that goes by.
"Anything that doesn't fit the traditional police mold goes to us. We've worked drugs, gambling, prostitution. If a uniform can't do it in a car with a badge and a gun, they call us."