Targeting the highest risk areas, the DOJ’s SOS program seems to be working.
Since 2018, high risk areas, such as both the Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia, have been part of the Department of Justice’s Operation Synthetic Opioid Surge (SOS), which is an effort geared towards reduce the supply of fentanyl in areas with the most overdose fatalities. Under Operation SOS, the U.S. Attorneys in these ten districts each designate a specific county to target, and so far, doing so has produced significant results.
The effort has led to an estimated 750 defendants being charged in federal court, with 384 of those defendants charged in 2020 so far. At the same time, those districts targeted have witnessed a noticeable decline in the number of overall overdoses. From 2017 to 2019, most SOS counties reported a decline of 14% to 24%, with the Western District of Pennsylvania seeing a whopping 45% drop.
“The Justice Department’s commitment to fighting the opioids epidemic is stronger than ever, and we are using every tool in our arsenal to disrupt the supply of these drugs on our streets,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, announcing the program’s most recent results. “Operation SOS has had a significant positive impact on the communities where it is being employed. The Department will continue to build on these successes and work to stop the drug traffickers who so callously wreck lives.”
In Berkeley County, West Virginia alone, this year to date, investigators seized more than two pounds of fentanyl, which the governor announced could potentially have killed 1.3 million people. And nearly 100 people in the area have been charged in federal court since the program’s inception. In some of the other areas, the results have equally impressive. The DOJ announced, in part:
“The Eastern District of Kentucky reported that an SOS investigation led to a residential search warrant and seizure of more than 1,300 grams of fentanyl, more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, $15,000 cash, two firearms, and paraphernalia used to traffic narcotics including a device for pressing fentanyl into a brick-like shape.;
The Northern District of Ohio reported a 10-defendant wire case involving a drug trafficking organization (DTO) operating out of Elyria and Sandusky, Ohio. The DTO purchased kilogram quantities of cocaine and oxycodone pills. Co-conspirators would later cook the cocaine and sell it as crack to local dealers in Elyria. During the conspiracy, agents seized approximately ½ kilo of cocaine, 100 grams of crack, oxycodone pills, and five firearms.;
The Western District of Pennsylvania prosecuted 98 SOS cases thus far in FY 2020. Particularly noteworthy among them is the prosecution of Lynell Guyton. Guyton was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams or more of cyclopropyl fentanyl and other charges, including firearms and money laundering violations. Guyton, who had been receiving shipments of fentanyl analogues from China, is both a Career Offender and an Armed Career Criminal. The case gained media attention when, during the execution of a search warrant in connection with the charges, the conspirators tipped over a table, sending cyclopropyl fentanyl into the air, sickening several law enforcement officers on the scene.”
In the two-year time since it’s inception, SOS has made significant steps towards positive change and the program will continue for the foreseeable future. There has been no word so far about adding other districts to the list.