TARPON SPRINGS — One by one, they were brought to the Tarpon Springs Police Department on Friday afternoon. Their hands in cuffs. Some with their heads down, some showing signs of defiance.
Before "Operation Oxy-Clean" is over, 34 people will be arrested on a variety of charges stemming from the illegal use of the prescription drug oxycodone, police said.
"We are real serious," said police Chief Bob Kochen. "If you are illegally using (oxycodone), we are going to come after you."
The operation began in October after Tarpon residents began to complain about the drug's presence in their community, said Capt. Robert Alfonso of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
The operation, which targeted street-level drug buys, was a partnership between Tarpon police and the sheriff's Narcotics Task Force. It involved undercover drug purchases.
A total of 79 criminal charges were leveled against suspects, including the sale and possession of oxycodone; sale and possession of crack cocaine; and trafficking in oxycodone.
Pinellas County law enforcement agencies have had a growing concern about the abuse of oxycodone. In September, for example, a similar operation targeted 175 people on 375 charges.
They were suspected of illegally obtaining or selling more than 100,000 oxycodone pills since January 2010.
Alfonso said seven people per day die in Florida from the improper use of prescription drugs. There were 249 overdoses in Pinellas connected to oxycodone in 2009, and 289 in 2010, he said.
Authorities say the arrests will continue.
"If we can reach one person from all of this, that will be progress," Alfonso said.
Contact Demorris A. Lee at [email protected] or (727) 445-4174.