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Franklin County drug bust focuses on addiction treatment and prevention outreach

Jacquelyn Martin
Associated Press

Law enforcement in Franklin County combined drug treatment and outreach with traditional bust tactics in a four-day operation on the west side of Columbus this week.

On Friday, local and state law enforcement announced results of "Operation BRIDGE" with a focus on connecting people with addiction services. Outreach organizations talked to about 300 people, referred 74 of those people for an appointment and helped 19 of them get immediate treatment.

Law enforcement officials are hoping to shift how they respond to people in need of addiction services.

Franklin County Sheriff Chief Deputy Rick Minerd said at a press conference in Grove City on Friday that efforts like this show law enforcement is implementing crisis intervention and drug addiction treatment as an alternative to traditional tactics.

"Ten years ago, law enforcement was using silly lingo like "junkies" and all kinds of stuff. It's taken a little while, but we've learned and we've realized that we don't have all the answers," Minerd said.

The organizations that worked with law enforcement included Recovery Ohio, Crisis Intervention Specialists with the Southeast Healthcare HOPE taskforce and Care Connection Columbus with the Judah Tabernacle.

The four-day operation also included standard drug enforcement tactics used by law enforcement such as executing drug trafficking search warrants and arrest warrants, tackling human trafficking and targeting drug dealers. This resulted in multiple agencies making 71 felony arrests and seizing over 1,200 grams of drugs, which was mostly marijuana, fentanyl and cocaine.

Crisis Intervention Specialist Keri Bull with the Hope Taskforce and Recovery Ohio director Aimee Shadwich said efforts such as these help people in need get connected to treatment services.

"As a provider, this gave us a chance to remind the family member sitting in the house, the gentleman in the alley, the person sleeping on the bench in a park and the girl on the block that they have value, that they are loved and that they are more than paperwork," Bull said.

Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said an on-site location was established to provide immediate assistance to the women who found themselves involved in a life of prostitution and provided drug and alcohol addiction support and mental health services.

Baldwin said this operation, while small, is not the last time his team wants to deploy these tactics.

"More needs to be done. We did this in a very small location on the west side of Columbus in Franklin County. This type of activity and ongoing BRIDGE operations need to be done in different parts of the county and we know the need is there," Baldwin said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.