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Rural Drug Task Force Targets Counties With Rampant Drug Abuse and Related Crimes

AVA, MO -- They felt they were floundering under a crush of drugs and drug related crimes, so three sheriffs in rural counties joined together to form the Tri-County Special Response Team.
AVA, Mo. -- They felt they were floundering under a crush of drugs and drug related crimes, so three sheriffs in rural counties joined together to form the Tri-County Special Response Team.

Douglas, Wright and Ozark counties cover more than 2,000 square miles. Banded together, these sheriffs say they're making quick work of trying to clean up an epidemic of drugs and the crimes people commit to get them.

"We've served a lot of search warrants over the last two-and-a-half months," said Douglas County Sheriff Chris Degase.

A dozen search warrants in three counties netting 25 arrests, the charges range from possession of a controlled substance to endangering the welfare of a child to credit card theft and includes weapons and burglary charges.

"It all kind of goes hand in hand, the stealing and the drug use and the prescription drug use is all tied together," said Degase. "They're stealing to support their habit, we're getting the same ones over and over and over again."

But with dozens of offenders and hundreds of crimes, these investigators say they were buckling under the pressure as individual departments.

The Ozark Sheriff says grants to aid with drug enforcement have all but dried up.

And Hwy. 5, running through Douglas, Wright and Ozark Counties into Arkansas, has become a drug artery.

"We knew we could get it done if we pulled our resources together," said Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed.

The Tri-County Special Response Team banded together in January.

"If you will track back all your crimes you can track the biggest percentage of it to drug related activities. All your thefts, your residential burglaries is related to drugs," said Reed. "A lot of times we're using our own personal money to combat drugs in our counties."

Ozark County Sergeant Winston Collins is a member of the Tri-County Special Response Team.

"Many of the deputies including myself we use our personal vehicles, we volunteer time, some of have worked around the clock," said Collins

One other weapon this newly formed task force has is momentum.

"We're tired of it, we're going to take back our counties and if you're peddling dope in these three counties we're going to find you, we are going to prosecute you," said Reed.

A warrant served overnight Tuesday was for hydrocodone.

Degase said one common factor they have found in all 12 search warrants they've served whether it be for meth, marijuana or theft, is illegal prescription drugs.

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