179th airmen helping to combat Ohio’s war against opioids

By 179th Airlift Wing - Special to the Inquirer

MANSFIELD — Nearly 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “Public Enemy No. 1.” Since then, law enforcement has been engaged in a war on drugs across the nation and abroad. Battles are being fought by multiple Ohio agencies. The goal to protect and defend their homes and communities from this very real threat.

State and local law enforcement agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Ohio National Guard have joined forces to combat this opioid epidemic.

“In Ohio, our guard members are at law enforcement agencies doing criminal analysis, and they are civil operators providing prevention and education support to community based organizations,” said Major Ryan McMaster, a 179th Airlift Wing intelligence officer, and the Ohio National Guard Counter drug coordinator. “We have about 40 folks participating in these activities across the state.”

Ohio has been heavily struck by the opioid epidemic that has devastated the nation, stealing loved ones from families and tearing apart communities. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Ohio ranked second in the highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the United States in 2017.

“The Ohio National Guard counter-drug personnel assigned to the Cleveland DEA office have been a tremendous asset to the DEA intelligence unit,” said James Goodwin, resident agent-in-charge of the Cleveland DEA District Office. “They enhance our capabilities and our resources and they bring their experience in the military and the National Guard to working law enforcement projects.”

Ohio’s opiate overdoses have dropped since 2017, and the future for stopping this opiate epidemic is looking brighter thanks to individuals who dedicate their lives to ending this epidemic. DEA Cleveland strives to not only react and combat drug abuse, but is proactive. It raises awareness through public awareness campaigns within Northeast Ohio.

The DEA has been able to call on professionals who are trained in multiple skill sets, some from the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield. Those airmen acquired their skill sets in professional military training, college and through the Ohio National Guard Scholarship program.

One 179th airman working with the DEA is Senior Airman Michael Early, an operations intelligence analyst.

“Growing up I started to see people that I knew or people I went to school were overdosing,” said Early. “Working here and seeing all that data and the lists of people who have overdosed — fatal or non-fatal — has really put into perspective how important the work we do here is. It’s actually making an impact on not just the community, but the community I live in.”

Another area the Counterdrug Task Force supports is the Crime Strategies Unit at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

“We are invested in identifying the crime drivers in each community,” said Eleina Thomas, managing attorney of the CSU at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

It’s mission is to harness the collective resources of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office to develop and implement intelligence-driven prosecution strategies that address crime issues and target priority offenders.The Ohio National Guard directly supports criminal investigations connected to the illegal drug nexus.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Hilliard, operations intelligence specialist at the 179th Airlift Wing, also is a criminal analyst with the Ohio National Guard Counterdrug Task Force. He works part-time at both the Cleveland DEA office and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office CSU.

“These agencies are already cooperating,” said Hilliard. “I just happen to have a foot in both worlds to help from both sides.”

There is a connection between violent crime and drugs, said Thomas, so it has been beneficial having Hilliard at the prosecutor’s office.

“He’s been able to bridge the gap between our office, the DEA, as well as the local law enforcement narcotics units,” said Thomas. “He is able to look at our cases here and see what the connections are to current investigations. We’ve been able to suggest proffering certain individuals based on the information that Hilliard has discovered.”

Hilliard helps law enforcement — from the beginning — identify individuals responsible and directly sees that impact.

“Everything from the initial ‘we think this person or phone is responsible, to identifying that person and actually locking them up’,” said Hilliard. “That’s probably the best feeling, when you get someone off the streets that you know has been related to fatal and non-fatal overdoses.”

Staff Sgt. Carolyn Kinzel, a C-130 Loadmaster with the 179th and Ohio Air National Guard Counterdrug Task Force criminal analyst with the Cleveland DEA, is making an impact with her training from Ohio University in Geospatial Sciences. She is is a criminal analyst and works very hard to help identify and arrest drug dealers. She also is making an impact assisting the civil operators’ role in public health, education and prevention.

“We can’t just arrest our way out of this drug fight and opioid epidemic,” McMaster said, “We have to find innovative ways to educate and prevent drugs from coming into the hands of our youth. That’s a part of the civil operators’ role.”

Law enforcement strives to remove drugs from our communities, but after 40 years of attacking sources and dealers, it’s evident the addicted continue to find a way to use. Law enforcement is making efforts to protect these habitual users from accidental overdose of fentanyl, a drug many users are unaware is being mixed in to their otherwise familiar habit.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, said Kinzel. It takes very little to produce a high, making it a cheaper option for the dealers. In doing so, this leads to unintentional overdoses.

One of Kinzel’s most recent accomplishments has touched the community of Cleveland, potentially saving 15,000 to 20,000 lives from accidental fentanyl overdoses.

Cleveland City Police Department had access to 15,000 to 20,000 fentanyl test stripes, which gives users the ability to test their drugs for Fentanyl before consuming, potentially saving their lives. The police provided Kinzel with their overdose data, and from that she created a map that identified more than 100 businesses that were in areas ranked high in overdoses to effectively place the test strips.

“I jumped on this opportunity to exercise my mapping skills from my degree. I was happy to use something I studied in college to impact the community in a direct way,” Kinzel said. “We are directly affecting the population that needs the most help, the people who haven’t gotten treatment and are still addicted. Using the map that I created, we can give them these tools.”


By 179th Airlift Wing

Special to the Inquirer