A large percentage of the illegal drugs sold in the Northern Panhandle - and, by extension, East Ohio - comes from Steubenville, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said Monday. The same day, events in a Jefferson County courtroom lent weight to his comment.
Ihlenfeld, whose jurisdiction is the northern region of West Virginia, announced serious charges against two Wellsburg men. They are accused of selling heroin to a Follansbee man who died of a drug overdose.
Heroin involved in the case was purchased by the Wellsburg men in Steubenville, Ihlenfeld said. Noting he does not have enough evidence to indict dealers there, he added the city has become a hub of illegal drug activity.
Also on Monday, a 25-year-old Mingo Junction woman was in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court in Steubenville. There, she was sentenced to six months in the Eastern Ohio Corrections Center for a probation violation.
The woman had been on probation for a crime last May, involving her use of a gun in a heroin deal gone bad. And as Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla pointed out, the customer was a Moundsville woman.
Finally, also on Monday in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court, a Chicago man was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to trafficking in heroin. He was among seven people arrested Oct. 23 when law enforcement authorities raided a home on State Street in Steubenville.
Four of those arrested in that raid were from Chicago. That prompted Jason Hanlin of the Jefferson County Drug Task Force to declare much of the illegal narcotics trade in Steubenville has its source in the Illinois city.
Hanlin also said the October raid occurred as a result of cooperation among several law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Ohio River.
Such cooperation is common. But still, the supply of heroin, pain pills and other dangerous drugs continues to flow.
Obviously, the higher up in the drug distribution chain that the authorities can move, the better. And local police and prosecutors have no power to hit drug distributors in Chicago, where the deadly racket is much more organized than here. Just a few days ago, Illinois authorities arrested 43 drug gang members in a sweep.
The highly organized, multi-state nature of the drug rackets makes it clear local initiatives in places such as the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio cannot eliminate the problem. More focused attention by the U.S. Justice Department and stiff sentences such as those sought by Ihlenfeld are needed. The decision to devote more resources to the war against drugs will have to be made in Washington, not here.