CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dozens of people were arrested Tuesday in a major drug trafficking sweep in Huntington, West Virginia, a city hit hard by the opioid epidemic.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said more than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officers targeted nearly 100 people for arrests aimed at dismantling a multi-state distribution network. He said 30 arrests were made as of midday Tuesday in the state's second-largest city.
"Today's effort is not targeting addicts or corner dealers but trafficking organizations that have made Huntington an unfortunate target of their profits," Stuart said.
Large amounts of suspected fentanyl, heroin and cocaine were seized from the operation before the sweep, including enough fentanyl to kill 250,000 people.
Among those arrested were the ringleaders, one in Huntington and two in Detroit, of a group that had been operating in Huntington for nearly 15 years. Thirty people in the drug organization were indicted in state and federal court in southern West Virginia, and more arrest and search warrants were anticipated in Detroit, he said.
"No longer will we tolerate this epidemic. No longer will we tolerate the folks from Detroit coming to our town, violating our citizens, bringing misery and chaos. Those days are over," Stuart said.
The arrests were part of the Project Huntington initiative Stuart announced on March 15 to involve more federal prosecutors in a crackdown on gun and violent crime and drug trafficking in Huntington. The city of 48,000 residents along the Ohio River had a record 19 homicides last year, up from just three in 2015.
West Virginia leads the nation by far in the rate of drug overdose deaths. Cabell County, which includes Huntington, has been hit especially hard. On one day in August 2016, more than two dozen people in Huntington overdosed on heroin during a five-hour span.
Among the agencies involved in Tuesday's arrests were Huntington, state and Marshall University police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the West Virginia National Guard, the FBI and local sheriff's departments.
"It's a potential game-changer for Huntington and southern West Virginia," Stuart said. "Huntington is a safer city today, but we continue to be vigilant."