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How Drug Investigations Work in Ohio

— October 6, 2020

Generally, Ohio’s drug crimes task forces work as an investigative glue that helps bind collaborative efforts between municipal police departments and sheriff offices. However, some of the agencies function independently. 

When local law enforcement sets their sights on a suspected drug offender, they carry the full force of multiple, powerful resources to investigate the case. 

Ohio Attorney General’s Office BCI

The Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) arm of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office pulls no punches when investigating drug crimes. BCI partners with local police throughout the state, bringing to the table an array of sophisticated technological tools to supercharge investigations. Some of these tools include:

  • Thermal imagery
  • Ground sensors
  • Video equipment
  • Photographic equipment
  • Body wires
  • Pen registers that track electronic activity via internet and phone
  • Vehicle tracking devices

Furthermore, a specialized BCI unit devotes all its time and energy to investigating marijuana cultivation and methamphetamine production. When a local sheriff’s office or police department notify BCI of such potential drug activity, BCI steps onto the scene with vehicles outfitted with all they need to investigate the situation. These vehicles include:

  • Gear for sampling
  • Devices for evaluating, processing, and dismantling production labs
  • Generators
  • Portable decontamination equipment
  • Breathing apparatuses
  • Personal protection gear

The Ohio Attorney General’s website boasts that BCI agents find and destroy marijuana cultivation operations throughout the state and have a track record of finding and eliminating “tens of thousands of pounds” of the drug every year. 

BCI is on top of their game, and they share their knowledge, techniques, and tips for investigating drug crimes with a wide range of Ohio audiences via secret training programs—meaning every drug investigative team in the state has the potential to mirror BCI’s techniques in their own investigations. 

BCI Investigations Division

Not only does BCI equip local law enforcement with a stable of expert agents, but they also support investigations with AG legal counsel, guiding investigative efforts to make certain that they align with the law—a safety measure to prevent ill-gotten evidence from being thrown out and dismantling a case. The Investigation Division offers several units that prove particularly beneficial to drug crime investigations, including their:

  • Heroin Unit
  • Narcotics Unit
  • Clandestine Lab and Marijuana Eradication Unit
  • Technical Operations Unit (provides tech like wiretaps, video recording, and GPS tracking equipment)

Other units in the Investigative Services Division offer local law enforcement invaluable expertise in criminal intelligence (for organized crimes, gangs, and drug trafficking) and polygraphs. They also serve as the official link to international police organization Interpol and provide access to the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), for easy sharing of criminal information amongst the state’s various law enforcement agencies. 

Drug Chemistry Unit

When physical evidence is seized, forensic scientists in BCI’s Drug Chemistry Unit will test to determine the presence of illegal controlled substances. Whether in trace or bulk quantities, this team can identify the following drugs:

  • Cocaine
  • Synthetic stimulants
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • Prescription drugs 

Ohio State Highway Patrol

The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP)’s Office of Criminal Investigations also does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to investigating drug crimes throughout the state. 

OSHP Crime Laboratory

The group’s Crime Laboratory fortifies law enforcement agencies and OSHP patrol units with forensic services used in identifying drug chemistry and toxicology. Regarding drug chemistry, these scientists perform lab tests on evidence suspected to be illegal controlled substances to determine whether they are, in fact, illegal drugs. Within the toxicology arm of this lab, scientists study blood, urine, and other biological specimens to identify whether there are any drugs or alcohol present in the samples.  

Criminal Patrol

Although this unit takes to the state’s roads in search for all forms of illegal activity, they pay particularly close attention to activities they believe to be connected with drug trafficking. Drug-detecting canines boost these efforts in every Ohio district with three types of specially trained dogs:

  • Single purpose, for narcotics
  • Dual-purpose, for tracking and narcotics
  • Explosive detection

It is not uncommon for Criminal Patrol personnel to participate in joint investigation efforts with local, state, and federal agencies.  

Investigative Services

OSHP’s “detectives,” the team at the Office of Investigative Services, pitch in with complex crimes. They may be sent to help a uniform trooper with drug trafficking and other serious crimes, especially those that have an element of violence.

Investigative Unit

These plainclothes police officers wear many hats across various types of crimes. With regard to criminal drug activity, these agents might center their efforts on drug crimes in liquor permit premises. 

Ohio Drug Crimes Task Forces

Further enabling the state’s drug crime investigations, Ohio boasts a massive network of 27 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the state. These agencies work together and with law enforcement to investigate suspected drug offenders.

Generally, Ohio’s drug crimes task forces work as an investigative glue that helps bind collaborative efforts between municipal police departments and sheriff offices. However, some of the agencies function independently.

Police Officer; image courtesy of Utility_Inc via Pixabay,

The Ohio Task Force Commanders Association facilitates cooperation amongst all the state’s task forces and helps in the development of new task forces. They do this by ensuring effective exchange of resources and intelligence surrounding illegal drug flow into Ohio neighborhoods. 

With so many eyes and ears working together and sharing observations, strategies, and evidence, Ohio law enforcement stands well supported in any drug crime investigation. 


The non-profit organization NARCO gives Ohio’s law enforcement officers a forum where they can swap intelligence and discuss progress on investigations. This is a national association that was founded in 1971, and their aim in Ohio mirrors that of the national group—to “lead the fight against illegal drug use and trafficking.”

Drug Trafficking Intel Center

In August 2019, the Governor Mike DeWine announced a new tool the state of Ohio plans to use to investigate drug trafficking cases. As a function of the state’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center (ONIC) was said to be launching with a $9.75 million yearly allocation. Supporting offices near Cleveland and in Columbus will be a staff of forensic computer specialists, analysts, and other personnel who will help agencies statewide with their drug trafficking investigation efforts. 

The team will use its skills to tackle a new reality about the flow of drugs in today’s tech-savvy climate. DeWine remarked that the flow cannot be stopped without addressing the dark web—which has begun to replace dark alleys as the preferred site for handling drug transactions. ONIC’s staff will lend support with analysis, investigations, and data management for Ohio’s law enforcement and drug task forces. 

They will also shed much needed light on the role that cryptocurrency plays in modern drug trafficking.

All these efforts will come together in an information-sharing network for drug cases, something that DPS Director Tom Stickrath hails as a “game-changer for trafficking investigations.”

Dewine also announced that he had secured funding to develop a number of new Cartel Trafficking Route Interdiction task forces. By intercepting methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs that try to enter the state, Dewine aims to cut off the money and drug supply from cartels. 

The Importance of Acting Earlier Rather Than Later

If you are being questioned about or suspect that you are being investigated for drug crimes in Ohio, consider calling a criminal defense attorney today. The sooner you retain the help of legal counsel, the better you can rest assured that your rights are not being trampled in the state’s eagerness to investigate, arrest, and convict another drug offender. 

They are serious about their drug-crime fighting business, and you should be serious about your defense. A drug crimes defense lawyer can help.

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