PADUCAH, KY (WSIL) -- Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. are at near-record levels, with the CDC reporting more than 109,000 people died of a drug overdose from March 2021 to March 2022.
That is a 44-percent jump from pre-pandemic numbers. There were 76,000 opioid deaths from March 2019 to 2020, two-thirds of deaths involved synthetic opioids, like fentanyl.
Paducah Police are near the end of an 18-month investigation into fentanyl trafficking, announcing Friday the arrest of 14 people this week, with officers seizing 8,000 pills--valued at more than $200,000, six handguns, two rifles and more than $240,000 in cash.
Paducah Police Chief Brian Laird, speaking at a press conference in the department's upstairs training room, says more arrests are expected while they work to remove the deadly drug from their community.
"You know it's not like marijuana, it's not like meth," explains Laird. "Meth will kill you over time, we don't respond to a lot of meth amphetamine overdoses, but fentanyl will kill you by itself."
When Paducah police began their investigation into fentanyl trafficking in 2020, Laird says the department averaged 5-to-7 fentanyl-related over-dose calls a year. That number has since tripled, revealing both a criminal-and-health crises within their community.
After numerous reports and several arrests for fentanyl-related incidents, the department opened an investigation that would cross state lines, opeing it up to include multiple jurisdictions and the FBI.
"Knowing how dangerous this drug is, we began focusing on identifying how the fentanyl was coming into our community," says Laird. On Wednesday, acting on a McCracken County Grand Jury indictment of 23 people, Paducah police made 14 of the 23 arrests.
"Due to the violent criminal histories of several of the suspects, swat teams from Paducah PD, as well as the FBI were utilized at two of those locations here in the city," says Laird. "It is without question, that this operation has likely saved an unknown number of lives," but fentanyl is still a threat to the Paducah Community.
While this operation was underway on wednesday, Paducah police responded to a fentanyl overdose, where the person was unresponsive and barely breathing, says Laird.
The individual was revived with NARCAN, a medicine that rapidly reverses an Opioid Overdose. NARCAN is now part of an officer's patrol kit, to ensure their safety while combating the deadly drug.
"Policing is dangerous inherently," says Laird, "But things like this just make that danger even more."
The investigation is ongoing with additional charges and arrest expected.