'This saved a life': Exclusive look at the frontline fight against drugs in Nash County

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Thursday, July 27, 2023
'This saved a life': Exclusive look at frontline fight against drugs
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The fight rages on against the deadly epidemic of drugs flooding our communities.

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's barely 8 o'clock in the morning and a team of eight Nash County deputies dressed in tactical gear swarm a Rocky Mount motel with their guns drawn.

"Step out. Put your hands on your head," deputies yell as they enter the room and quickly handcuff two people inside.

The actions are part of a search warrant the Nash Country Special Response Team (SRT) served after receiving numerous complaints of drug activity and completing undercover buys at the motel.

Inside the room, deputies find baggies with small amounts of crack, heroin and marijuana along with a handgun.

But that's not all they find.

After putting a man and woman in handcuffs, deputies are informed that a third woman is sleeping nearby. Minutes later, two deputies carry out the woman's limp body and place her on the pavement; she's barely responsive.

An EMT administers Narcan. It's instances like this that first responders say make up their consistent fight against drug traffickers and drug dealers.

"If these officers would not have been in here a while ago, you would have had an overdose and a death," Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said.

SEE ALSO | NC law that punishes drug dealers not widely used despite increase in overdose deaths

In terms of the number of drugs seized, it's by no means a big bust for the agency. Still, deputies call the morning a major win.

"This saved a life today," Stone said.

The number of people who died from an overdose in Nash County doubled between 2019 and 2022, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).

Thirty-five people died from an overdose in the county in 2022 but four times as many people were brought to the emergency room to be treated for an overdose.

It's a trend mirrored across the state with 3,761 North Carolinians dying from an overdose in 2022. That's 1,400 more than just three years prior.

"This instance that just happened here is what's going on across America. We have more deaths from fentanyl than we have from gun violence and car accidents; it's an epidemic," Stone said. "What we're after is the dealers and the traffickers bringing the poison into our communities."

In Nash County, the major highways that run through the rural community make it ripe for drug trafficking.

"We see a lot of influx right here. This county is almost like a halfway point. You have I-95 that runs straight through the county and U.S. Hwy 64 which turns into I-40, so there are major thoroughfares through here ... so we get a lot of this traffic coming through here. A lot of narcotics through here," explained Captain Jeremy Hardy, who oversees the narcotics team at the Nash Co. Sheriff's Office.

That pipeline for poison has led to some large seizures for the agency.

Nash County deputies have seized $14 million worth of illegal drugs off the street from 2020 to 2023, according to data provided by the agency.

"What we do is we stop it before it gets into other communities," Stone said.

In recent years, these efforts have included a traffic stop that led to the seizure of 18 kilos of cocaine, the arrest of multiple members of a drug trafficking organization, and multiple other traffic stops involving high amounts of illegal drugs.

Kilos of cocaine valued at $100,000 each, and half a kilo of fentanyl worth $100,000; just a portion of the 50 kilos of illegal substances deputies have seized in the last four years.

"A point of a pen has a chance of killing anyone," Hardy said explaining the potency of the fentanyl officers have seized, "So anytime you are using one of these bags, you are gambling with your life."

He explained the cocaine they are seizing is coming from Mexico and the fentanyl is coming from China but both are getting dispersed through the Mexican border.

SEE ALSO | New firearm regulations fail to stop purchases of untraceable ghost guns in North Carolina

"It's a growing problem, and that's the reason for putting more resources into it," Stone explained. "It's going to take all of law enforcement to come together and say, 'Hey, what can we do to stop this trafficking and the selling of drugs in our community?' It's killing our youth, it's killing our family members, killing our friends."

To increase the effects of these proactive efforts, the agency has partnered with state and federal prosecutors to create stricter punishments for offenders. These partnerships have also allowed Nash County to increase its manpower, funding and equipment to better go after the problem.

Despite major busts that the agency has executed with federal officials, the drugs keep coming.

"We do see a lot of repeat offenders but we also see a lot of new dealers. Once you take one off there are several to take the place of that one. So it's a constant revolving door," Hardy said.

One example of the constant problem: The same man deputies arrested at the Rocky Mount hotel on July 12, they arrested again a week later at the same motel. The man was out on bond when they found him in the same motel room, again with heroin and cocaine.

For the Nash County Sheriff's Office, it's not just about the major drug traffickers but any dealer.

SEE ALSO | More than 5,400 NC children charged with weapon-related crimes in 2022

"These houses that we are running into now, some of these are what we call trap houses or houses that they may have anywhere from five people selling from the house, but no one really owns the house," he explained. "It is kind of to avoid detection by law enforcement or trying to deny ownership of anything that may be in the houses -- guns, drugs, anything."

Deputies on the Special Response Team executed a search of one of these homes on July 12 after completing multiple undercover buys from the residency. The warrant led to the arrest of three people for various drug-related charges.

"Anything we can recover is a win; even one dosage of heroin is a win for us because that one dosage unit may seem insignificant but that one dosage unit has the potential to kill someone," Hardy said.

Hardy said the search warrants executed this year have led to 40 arrests for drug-related charges.

As the hunt for drugs continues in central North Carolina, law enforcement said time is ticking.

"We know it is going to continue to be out there but we can't let that deter us from doing what we need to do," Hardy said.