WCOCTF

It was a day like any other for Matthew Treglia and his 12-year-old daughter. While riding to school, she noticed a box sitting between them. “Daddy, what’s in the box?” she asked. Treglia opened the box, pulled out the contents he would use later that day in an anti-drug presentation he was giving as part of the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force, and gave an impromptu anti-drug lesson right there in his truck.

“I took time right there and then to pull out large amounts of cocaine, large amounts of marijuana and large amounts of heroin, and actually show them to her at a young age and explain to her what these drugs can do to you if you decide to go down this road,” says Treglia, now Allen County Sheriff. “I think that's very important for kids today. When they get on the streets and they get in their groups of friends and see a small amount of cocaine, just like my daughter, they know it’s no big deal.”

It’s but one small example of the work done by the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force, which combines person-to-person policing with enforcement to battle the drug problem afflicting its corner of the Buckeye State. And the coronavirus pandemic has brought back a resurgent nemesis in the opioid crisis, which the Task Force had helped to suppress in recent years.

“Opioids are very cheap, and heroin is very cheap. Unfortunately, the cartels have understood this for years and realize that if they can get it into these communities and get these people addicted, they're going to keep coming back,” Treglia says. “And so far, that's what’s taken place. What the Task Force is designed to do is to basically cut the head off the snake or the break chain, and stop the chain of supply coming into the community.”

‘Families are ripped apart’

The Task Force, formed three decades ago to help Allen County fight the war on drugs, is today a multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional entity comprising members of the Allen and Van Wert county sheriff departments, Lima and Delphos city police forces, and Ohio State Highway Patrol. Working alongside the FBI, the Task Force conducts undercover drug buys, wiretaps phone conversations, and uses other tactics to dismantle the organizations that bring drugs into the region.

Treglia knows the Task Force well—not only is he a former member, but he also became commander in 2007. And through his work, he’s seen the rise of opiates firsthand. “When I first started on the Task Force, there was no heroin to be found,” he says. “And as I was leaving the Task Force, heroin was overtaking our drug buys over cocaine nearly two to one.”

Heroin hit the streets and changed lives forever. What looked like perfect families on the outside were suddenly dealing with potentially deadly addiction problems. A family member or child would get hooked on pain pills like Percocet or OxyContin and then search for street drugs once the prescription ran out. The results can be tragic, as Treglia and other current and former Task Force members have witnessed.

“It's amazing to me—the addiction of the opioids and the deaths that have come from it, and the families that are just ripped apart,” Treglia says. “One dose too much, and you could be gone forever. So I stress to families, this is just something that you need to be discussing with your kids yesterday. Not now, yesterday. It's very important that you talk about it and not let peer pressure get ahold of these kids. And the only way to do that is to give these kids some type of an angle out when they're approached with it. You've got to get these kids options. You got to tell them what to say, give them options to get out of a situation like that.”

‘Opioids came back full force’

The opioid problem in Allen County is indicative of the larger crisis in Ohio, which suffers from roughly 5,000 overdose deaths each year. Getting people into treatment helped Allen County make great strides in the battle against opioids—and then the pandemic hit. Suddenly people were stuck in their homes and perhaps losing their jobs. Depression sunk in and old addictive habits followed.

Opioids

“As the pandemic hit, the opioids actually came back full force with it,” Treglia says. “And with that came increased depression, suicide, and things of that nature—and obviously, overdoses.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, over the first half of 2020, hospitalizations related to opioid use exceeded those from the same time the year before. Through September, Allen County had reported eight suspected opioid overdose deaths. It all serves to heighten the importance of the Task Force, which operates mostly with federal and state grant money. Due to the pandemic, the Force has been forced to curtail the anti-drug presentations it routinely gives to schools, churches, and other community groups.

 “I think it will take a little while to ramp them back up,” Treglia says. “But I also think they're an essential part of the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force’s goal of ending drug use. Adults and kids were able to see the officer and how he acted, and actually got to physically look at these drugs that we brought with us.”

Even so, Treglia is optimistic that the Task Force can once again help to suppress opioid use in Allen County. “There's no doubt in my mind, we will get a handle on this,” the sheriff says. “But what I've seen in trends from working in the drug unit is, there's always going to be a different drug, at a different time, in a different place.”

Interested in learning more about the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force and how it benefits the community? Contact the Allen County Sheriff’s Office at (419) 227-3535, or visit the Task Force’s website. To report drug activity, call the Task Force tip line at (419) 227-1306.