FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky State Police started rounding up nearly 500 suspected drug suspects Friday in what the state's lead police agency called the largest one-day crackdown in its history, aided by tips from Kentuckians reviled by a drug scourge that has caused more statewide deaths than car wrecks.
The waves of anonymous tips to state police included a plea from a western Kentucky woman desperate to help her drug-addicted son. Her information helped lead to the arrest of her son's dealer, said KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer.
State police received similar heartfelt letters from people seeking police intervention to stem the flow of drugs reaching their loved ones, he said.
"We hear you and we are responding to the needs of our local communities," Brewer said at state police headquarters in Frankfort. "Your heart goes out to them. They have tried every avenue possible to try to cure their son or daughter of this type of addiction. And oftentimes at the root of the problem is a dealer."
State police personnel, aided by local and federal authorities, fanned out across Kentucky on Friday morning.
The roundup, dubbed "Operation Black Friday," was expected to net 479 arrests resulting in at least 774 charges, mostly trafficking- and possession-related, Brewer said.
Arrests spanned the state, but the highest totals were in portions of southeastern and south-central Kentucky, state police said.
The crackdown, in the works for months, mostly targeted street-level drug dealers at or near the bottom rungs of trafficking operations, Brewer said.
"These people are really the thorn in the sides of our local communities," he said.
But authorities hoped the arrests would lead them up the command chain to nab higher-ranking members of trafficking rings, he said.
Arrests stemmed from the peddling of a cross-section of drugs — including prescription, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine, he said.
Heroin has become a growing problem, with KSP arrest data showing a 200 percent increase in heroin-related arrests since 2012, he said.
Overall drug addiction has plagued Kentucky, where drug overdose deaths have been outnumbering traffic fatalities.
Prescription drug abuse has been widespread, but state officials have noted some progress in the fight against misuse of drugs found in family medicine cabinets. The governor's office said in July that the number of prescription overdose deaths in Kentucky declined for the first time in a decade.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a sweeping measure in 2012 that took aim at prescription abuse.
Since then, a number of pain management clinics have closed. Thousands more medical providers are registered with the state's electronic prescription tracking system, known as KASPER. And prescribing rates have dropped for hydrocodone and oxycodone — highly addictive pain medications in high demand among pill dealers and addicts.
State officials said Friday that Kentucky collected more than 9,000 pounds of unused or unneeded medications during the National Drug Take Back Day last Saturday. The medications will be properly disposed of to ensure they don't get into circulation for abuse, they said.
"Kentucky continues to make strides in its fight to reduce substance abuse and the devastating toll it takes on our families," Gov. Steve Beshear said.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company