PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A 9-month investigation between the Drug Enforcement Administration and Pasco Sheriff's Office led to an arrest deputies hope will make a dent in the area's opioid crisis.
"We will find you and we will arrest you and you will be held to the highest level of legal accountability possible," Captain Mike Jenkins, with the Pasco Sheriff's Office said.
The sheriff's office seized $400,000 cash, eight handguns and three lbs. of heroin mixed with fentanyl, which comes out to more than 22,000 doses taken off the streets.
The sheriff's office says 47-year-old Edwin Hill, of Holiday, was at the top of a deadly drug supply. United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez said he and 31-year-old William Gaston, of Port Richey, are charged with conspiring to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and 400 grams or more of fentanyl, and distribution of heroin and fentanyl. Nelson White, of Holiday, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy.
It was in late September that investigtators raided a New Port Richey duplex allegedly connected to Hill's operation.
Dave Ries, a neighbor, told ABC Action News Reporter Ryan Smith, "Get one more problem out of our hands because we don't need that in our area here."
The sheriff's office reports 31 overdose-related deaths between October and November of 2017. The same time this year, one month after the busy, the sheriff's office reports overdose-related deaths have dropped to 18 deaths.
"Disrupting the supply does make a difference, but we all know that supply chain will be brought back. We're working very hard to identify who that next individual is," Jenkins said.
Pasco County is not just going after illegal drug dealers. They are also one of more than a thousand local governments suing drug companies and distributors in federal court for their role in the opioid epidemic.
I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern found out that list is growing. Since the I-Team's report earlier this month, the number has grown from more than 1,400 lawsuits filed in federal court - to more than 1,500. The attorney representing about 500 of those local governments, including Pasco and Pinellas County, says he expects that number to continue to climb.
The I-Team found the overdose rate in Pasco County is 30 percent higher than the state average. A recent medical examiner's report revealed the district covering Pasco and Pinellas had the most methadone deaths in the state last year, and was second only to the Jacksonville area for the highest number of oxycodone and hydrocodone deaths.
The first opiate suit, brought by Cleveland and two counties in Ohio, heads to trial in September. Local counties will be watching that trial closely, for an indication of how their lawsuits could go.