More than 40 people were arrested in Huntington this week on drug and gun charges in a sweeping joint investigation targeting accused interstate drug traffickers in what officials called a "turning point" for the city -- and "in the war against the opiate nightmare."
Authorities said they think their work will ultimately break down a "major" drug network that has moved heroin, fentanyl and cocaine from Detroit to Huntington for almost 15 years. Nearly 50 more people were "targeted for arrest" on various charges in an effort involving more than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officers. Those accused of roles in the "Peterson" drug trafficking organization -- named for two brothers -- also face charges in Detroit, officials said.
"Huntington, I believe, is a safer city today than it was when this day began," Mike Stuart, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, said at a press conference Tuesday.
"Project Huntington" began last month when what Stuart called a "surge of federal prosecutors" arrived in West Virginia’s second-largest city to round up suspected drug dealers selling heroin and fentanyl, the powerful opiate often laced with heroin.
Huntington’s crime rate soared in 2017, and Cabell County led the state in the number of fatal overdoses for the second year in a row, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
Early Tuesday, helicopters hovered the skies above Huntington. Guyandotte Elementary was placed on lockdown "as a precaution" after seeing police presence in the neighborhood, said Jedd Flowers, spokesman for Cabell County Schools. He said the school system was not notified in advance of raids by agencies involved and that the county school board did not call for lockdowns.
Officials seized at least 450 grams of fentanyl -- enough "to kill more than 250,000 people," Stuart said.
The arrest "have resulted in the destruction of a supply network, the supplier of suppliers of illicit drugs,” he said in the news release. "The peddlers of poisons like heroin and fentanyl are in the crosshairs of this Administration and law enforcement. We still have work to do but the days of havoc, chaos and misery caused by the peddlers of illicit poisons are soon to be over."
Federal, state and local law enforcement officials attended the press conference.