Ohio's Fight Against Drugs Lacks Cohesiveness


A recent news article begins with a simple statement - "Drug enforcement in Ohio was not created equal." Law enforcement's approach to drug crimes is severely fragmented. What could result in probation only in one county could warrant a prison sentence in another.

Currently, there are just too many variables in the Ohio justice system to be consistent with drug enforcement. Variables include:

  • Location of the offense
  • The aggressiveness of task force detectives
  • Whether the judge sought punishment or treatment
  • Limited budgets
  • Jurisdictional disagreements
  • Jail capacity

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the total number of deaths from drug overdoses surpassed the total number of drug dealers imprisoned in 2012. About 40 percent of all Ohio drug cases result in prison sentences, which is much lower than it has been in previous years. At first, it seems obvious that this can be attributed to sentencing reform, but the lower imprisonment rates actually started before sentencing reforms were enacted.

70 Ohio counties have drug task forces operating in them, but Ohio only has 38 total drug task forces. This means that some counties share drug task forces, others have none, and still others have multiple – like Cuyahoga County, which has three.

Take a look at two neighboring counties: Scioto and Pike. Between the years 2009 and 2013, Scioto County imprisoned 32 drug dealers per 10,000 residents. Pike County imprisoned one drug dealer per 10,000 residents. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine attributed this to the effectiveness of individual task forces. In theory, all Ohio's task forces share budget and resources, but still some work better than others do.

Every community is different as well, some contend. Low incarceration rates in one county could simply reflect a lower overall crime rate. It's not easy to come up with a metric to gauge a task force's success. One thing that is certain is that drug overdoses in Ohio are still occurring at a high frequency.