Detective Randy Sanders, who works at the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office in support of the Highland County Task Force, spoke at a meeting of the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition last week about his efforts to fight the drug epidemic in the county.
Sanders has been working as a law enforcement officer for more than 40 years and has worked for more than 30 years investigating drug cases. He has worked for the Hillsboro Police Department, Highland County Sheriff’s Office, and in Ross County assigned to the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force.
In addition to his current role in the prosecutor’s office, he has worked undercover making several hundred drug deals, worked more than 25 homicide cases, and numerous other criminal investigations.
Sanders took on his current role when the Highland County Task Force, made up of all the law enforcement agencies in Highland County, was established in January of 2020.
According to Sanders, the major problems associated with the drug epidemic in Highland County include overdose deaths, an increase in violent crimes, children taken from families because of drug abuse in the family, an increase in thefts, and methamphetamine-induced psychosis.
“Things we see are, number one, the fentanyl — the overdose deaths,” said Sanders. “Especially since the ice [methamphetamine] is around, we see more violence than what we’ve seen in the past and a lot of the thefts, too.”
Sanders said the task force aims to reduce overall crime by identifying and targeting drug dealers either living in the county or bringing drugs to the area.
“I’m going to give you a low number,” he said. “I’m going to say that probably at least 80 percent of crime in Highland County, if not more, is tied to drugs.”
At the lower level, the crimes trickle down to thefts. “The people who are just users — a lot of them are homeless, and that’s a problem if they’re out looking for ways to come up with enough money, and that also includes getting something that belongs to someone else,” said Sanders.
He said the meth he sees in the community is no longer “cooked” locally, and he is seeing the product coming from Mexico.
Drug-related overdose deaths in the county have primarily been attributed to an increase in various types of fentanyl. Sometimes users intentionally purchase fentanyl because of its affordability, but it is often mixed into other street drugs unknown to the user.
“We’re seeing fentanyl pressed into pills like Percocet where it looks like you’re buying Percocet, and it’s actually straight fentanyl.
Since the inception of the task force, drug-related indictments have increased. “Anneka [Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins] got it started, and we’ve just tried to build it basically from the ground up to where we’re trying to work some of the bigger people — trying to get the dope that’s coming into Highland County and also trying to work some of the groups that we know are responsible for the larger thefts,” said Sanders.
In 2020, 31 people were indicted for drug-related cases in Highland County, and so far in 2022, 92 people have been indicted for drug-related cases in the county.
“We see the degree of felonies go way up because our aim is to do more of the people that are in the first-, second- and third-degree felonies charges range that are selling more dope,” said Sanders.
In 2020, four of the cases were first-degree felonies, and 18 of them were first-degree felonies so far in 2022.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.