Even the Drug Enforcement Administration’s top man in Cleveland thinks we can’t arrest our way out of the opioid problem. But that hasn’t stopped Keith Martin, or his agents, from seizing shipments and making cases against those who sell drugs that lead to an overdose. Since Martin, the assistant special agent in charge, arrived in 2015, the DEA has ramped up its opioid-specific enforcement targeting cocaine, heroin and fentanyl dealers in Northeast Ohio. By sharing intel and funding partnerships with police in several counties, the DEA has taken huge quantities off the street — including 29 kilograms of cocaine, 8 kilograms of heroin and 1 kilogram of fentanyl in an October 2016 bust. We asked Martin about fentanyl, drug routes and more.
Q: What’s changed since you first came to Cleveland?
A: When I arrived in June 2015, I couldn’t even spell fentanyl. ... I knew there was an opiate issue with pills, but as far as fentanyl being in the mix, it kind of caught me off guard. But I quickly realized that was a huge problem, and we really started focusing on the heroin-fentanyl problem.
Q: How are illegal opioids coming into the Cleveland area?
A: The most known or common way is the Mexican cartels are bringing it up. They’re using the same routes that they’ve been using for the last 100 years. Same routes, different methods of concealment. The other way is the internet. I’m not talking about the dark web. [It’s] just going on the internet and ordering fentanyl. You can literally sit in your home, get on the internet and order a package, where there’s thousands of packages every day coming from China.
Q: How has the way you think about those who use heroin changed?
A: I’ve been with the DEA for 22 years, and it’s more of a cloak and dagger operation. ... But we’ve been out more in the schools, in the community, doing public speaking, getting the message out. When I started, I looked at a heroin user as a junkie, as a criminal. I don’t look at them as that anymore. I look at them as a victim. But we’re not going to arrest our way out. We’ve got to prevent our way out of this problem.