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Joint opioid task force leads to 75 arrests in WNC

A major law enforcement operation targeting drug trafficking in and around the Qualla Boundary has resulted in the arrest of more than 75 individuals on federal, state and tribal charges. 

U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke and Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, made the announcement last week in Asheville. Additionally, the months-long operation yielded more than 248 pounds of illegal substances including heroin, methamphetamine, and hundreds of opioid pills with an estimated street value of $2 million. Officers also seized six illegally-possessed firearms. This operation is the latest conducted by the Interior Department’s task force, which Zinke formed in March 2018 to target the opioid crisis in Indian Country.

The undercover operation, led by the Department of Interior’s Opioid Reduction Task Force, in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Police Department and multiple federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, began in March 2018 and aimed at disrupting and dismantling drug distribution networks operating in and around the Qualla Boundary. 

“First and foremost, bravo zulu to the dozens of law enforcement professionals who are on the front lines and putting their own lives at risk to take these deadly drugs off the streets. President Trump and I could not be prouder of their work,” said Zinke. “It’s heartbreaking to see the scale of the problem, and rather than further stigmatizing victims, we are cracking down on the dealers who are selling out our children, selling out our communities, and selling out our nation. The Trump Administration is serious about ending the opioid crisis and that means both treatment of those suffering as well as eradicating the drugs from our communities. This week’s law enforcement action gets us closer to that goal.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of the Interior, the BIA and the multiple state and local agencies who helped make this operation a success," said EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed. "The arrest of these drug dealers is a critical step towards ensuring that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are able to provide the healthy environment our people deserve.”

In addition to the 75 arrests announced in connection with DOI’s Opioid Reduction Task Force operation, a concurrent two-year investigation spearheaded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Division of Drug Enforcement and the DEA led to the previous arrest of 57 additional individuals responsible for trafficking opiates and methamphetamine on the boundary, bringing the total number of those arrested as part of the Western District’s drug reduction initiative on the Cherokee Indian Reservation to 132.

Other partners involved in the operation include: the DEA; the EBCI Police Department; the Swain County Sheriff’s Office; the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office; the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office; the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office; the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office; Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office; the Asheville Police Department; the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol; and the U.S. Marshals Service for their coordinated efforts throughout this investigation.

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