Chester and Newell are small towns, with fewer than 4,000 residents between them, according to the Census Bureau. That makes the number of people charged in a drug sweep last week especially disturbing.
Local, state and federal law enforcement authorities cooperated in the operation, according to U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld. Thirty-nine people from West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania were charged.
Ihlenfeld, whose district is northern West Virginia, described the arrests as a major blow to illegal drug activity in Chester and Newell. An investigation that began last September was focused on the two communities. Ihlenfeld paid special tribute to Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher, who made cracking down on illegal drugs a priority when he took office in January.
Again, however, look at the numbers: Illegal drug activity is has become so pervasive that an investigation centered on two small towns netted charges against 39 people - a number approximately equal to 1 percent of the communities' populations. And that is just the drug pushers against whom law enforcement officials believed they had enough evidence to move.
Good heavens. It is enough to make some police and prosecutors wonder whether they are merely banging their heads against a brick wall.
Clearly, there is a gigantic market for illegal drugs in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio.
So, while congratulations are in order for all involved in the drug sweep last week, their efforts make it clearer than ever that more resources need to be found and devoted to cracking down on illegal drugs. At all levels - in our communities, state capitals and Washington - that needs to be a call for action, not just concern.